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.

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