Types of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancers can be described by where they are found in the pancreas or the type of cells they start from.

Different types of pancreatic cancer

There are several different types of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer types are described based on:

  • where they are in the pancreas
  • the type of cell they start from.

Cancer can happen in any part of the pancreas. Around 6 out of 10 pancreatic cancers (60%) start in the head of the pancreas.

More than 9 out of 10 pancreatic cancers (95%) develop in the exocrine cells that make pancreatic juices. Cancers that develop in the endocrine cells (NETs) can behave differently to those that develop in the exocrine cells. This means they can cause different symptoms.

Exocrine pancreatic cancer

The most common type of exocrine pancreatic cancer is ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This cancer starts from cells in the lining of the pancreatic ducts.

Less common types include:

  • cystic tumours – these cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the pancreas that can be cancerous
  • acinar cell carcinomas – these start from cells at the end of the ducts that make pancreatic juices
  • ampullary cancer – this develops in the ampulla of Vater
  • intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMN) – these develop in the pancreatic duct and produce mucus.

Our information is about the most common type of exocrine pancreatic cancer. But treatments for cancerous cystic tumours, acinar cell carcinomas and ampullary cancer are similar to those described in our treatment section.

Endocrine pancreatic cancer

Endocrine tumours of the pancreas are uncommon. They begin in the endocrine cells which make insulin and other hormones. They are also called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETs) or islet cell tumours. About 4 in 100 (4%) of pancreatic cancers are PNETs.

Other pancreatic cancers

There are other rarer types of pancreatic cancer:

  • lymphoma – a cancer of the lymphatic tissue in the pancreas
  • sarcoma – a cancer of the connective tissues in the pancreas
  • pancreatoblastoma – a rare type of cancer that mainly affects children
  • pseudopapillary neoplasm – a rare, slow-growing tumour that mostly affects women.

The tests and treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreatoblastoma and sarcoma of the pancreas may be different to those in our information.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our pancreatic cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Society for Medical Oncology, Cancer of the pancreas: ESMO clinical Practice Guidelines. Volume 26, Supplement 5, V56-V68, 1 September 2015. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdv295 (accessed May 2021).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Pancreatic cancer in adults: diagnosis and management. NICE guideline (NG85). Published 7 February 2018. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng85/chapter/Recommendations (accessed May 2021).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 05 January 2022
Next review: 05 January 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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