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 according to:

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

Cancer can occur in any part of the pancreas. But 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 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 
    It 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 juice.

  • Ampullary cancer

    This develops in the ampulla of Vater (the openings where the bile duct and the pancreatic duct drain into the duodenum).

  • Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMN)

    These develop in the pancreatic duct and produce mucus.

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 and are treated differently. 

Other rarer pancreatic cancers

There are other rare types of pancreatic cancer. Most of these are investigated and treated differently from exocrine cancers of the pancreas. They include:

  • Lymphoma 

    Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic tissue in the pancreas.

  • Sarcoma

    Sarcoma is a cancer of the connective tissues in the pancreas.

  • Pancreatoblastoma

    Pancreatoblastoma is a rare type of cancer that mainly affects children.

  • Pseudopapillary neoplasms

    Pseudopapillary neoplasms are rare, slow-growing tumours that mostly affect women.

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

    British Society of Gastroenterology. Guidelines for the management of patients with pancreatic cancer peri-ampullary and ampullary carcinomas. 2005.

    European Society for Medial Oncology. Cancer of the pancreas: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2015. 26 (Supplement 5): v56 to v68.

    Fernandez-del Castillo. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging of exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Jan 2018.

    Fernandez-del Castillo C, et al. Supportive care of the patient with locally advanced or metastatic exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Feb 2017. 

    Winter JM, et al. Cancer of the pancreas, DeVita Hellman and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2016.

  • 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.