Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer)
cells form in the tissues of the pancreas.
The pancreas is a
gland about 6 inches long that is
shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. The wider end of the pancreas is
called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is
called the tail. The pancreas lies between the stomach and the spine.
|Anatomy of the pancreas. The pancreas has three areas: head, body, and tail. It is found in the abdomen near the stomach, intestines, and other organs. |
The pancreas has two main jobs in the body:
- To make juices
that help digest (break down) food.
- To make hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that help control blood sugar
levels. Both of these hormones help the body use and store the energy it gets
The digestive juices are made by exocrine pancreas cells and
the hormones are made by endocrine pancreas cells. About 95% of pancreatic
cancers begin in exocrine
This summary is about exocrine pancreatic cancer.
For information on endocrine pancreatic cancer, see the PDQ summary on Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors) Treatment.
For information on pancreatic cancer in children, see the PDQ summary on Unusual Cancers of Childhood Treatment.