Types of pancreatic cancer

Types of pancreatic cancer can be described by where they are found in the pancreas and by the type of cell that they start from.

Cancer can occur in any part of the pancreas, but around 6 or 7 in every 10 pancreatic cancers (60–70%) start in the head of the pancreas.

There are several different types of pancreatic cancer. The most common type is ductal adenocarcinoma, which starts from cells in the lining of the pancreatic ducts. More than 9 out of 10 pancreatic cancers (95%) are ductal adenocarcinomas.

Cancer may develop at the ampulla of Vater, where the bile and pancreatic ducts join up and enter the small bowel (duodenum). This is called ampullary cancer.

Other, less common, types of pancreatic cancer include:

  • cystic tumours – cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the pancreas, which can be cancerous
  • acinar cell carcinomas – these start from the cells that make pancreatic juice
  • neuroendocrine tumours – these begin in the endocrine cells where insulin and other hormones are made
  • lymphoma – this is a cancer of the lymphatic tissue in the pancreas.

The treatments for cancerous cystic tumours, acinar cell carcinomas and ampullary cancer are similar to those described in our treatment section. But the tests and treatments for neuroendocrine tumours and lymphoma of the pancreas may be very different.

Back to Understanding pancreatic cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

The pancreas

The pancreas is part of the digestive system. It is in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen).

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms for a long time. Common symptoms are pain or discomfort, jaundice and weight loss.