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. 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 juice
  • ampullary cancer – this develops in the ampulla of Vater
  • 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.

Other rarer pancreatic cancers

There are other rare types of pancreatic cancer:

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

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, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreatoblastoma and sarcoma of the pancreas may be 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.

What is 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.