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Education Materials

What is Pancreatic cancer?
• Pancreatic cancer begins when abnormal cells grow out of control within the pancreas. Most pancreas cancers, about 95%, are classified as exocrine tumors because they begin in the exocrine cells that produce enzymes to aid in digestion. There are many different types of exocrine tumors but the most common is adenocarcinoma which accounts for about 75% of all pancreas cancers and arises from cells that line the pancreatic duct.

IPMN’s or an Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasm are another type of exocrine cancer that often times start out as a suspicious looking cyst. IPMN may arise within ductal abnormalities and once they are cancerous require the same treatment as adenocarcinoma.

Less common types of pancreatic cancer are endocrine tumors which account for about 5% of pancreatic tumors. Endocrine tumors may be benign or malignant and tend to be slower growing than exocrine tumors.

What does the pancreas do?
• The pancreas is a gland, about six inches long, located in the abdomen. It is shaped like a pear and is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver, spleen and gallbladder. It is composed of a head, neck, body, tail, and uncinate process. The wide end of the pancreas on the right side of the body is called the head, the middle sections are the neck and body, and the thin end of the pancreas on the left side of the body is called the tail. The uncinate process is the part of the gland that bends backwards and underneath the head of the pancreas.

The pancreas is important because it performs both endocrine and exocrine functions playing a vital role in the digestion of food and regulation of blood glucose. The exocrine cells of the pancreas produce enzymes that are released through the pancreatic duct that aid in food digestion while the endocrine cells release the hormones insulin and glucagon that together work to maintain proper levels of sugar in the blood.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
• Often symptoms of pancreas cancer are not present in the early stages, and the symptoms that develop are often vague. Patients may experience different symptoms depending on the location, type and stage of the tumor. The symptoms that commonly lead to diagnosis are:
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a component of bile, in the blood
- Abdominal and/or back pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- New or worsening diabetes

How is pancreatic cancer staged?
• Staging is the process used to determine the extent of the cancer in the body. Accurate staging is usually done by a combination of imaging tests and surgery. Staging is based on tumor size, involvement of cancer in lymph nodes, and whether the disease has spread to distant organs. Pre operative imaging can estimate staging, but is only certain after surgical resection.

What are the treatment options for pancreatic cancer?
• Once a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is made, patients must consider treatment options. Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on both the stage of the disease and the overall health of the patient. Current treatments for patients may include one
or more of the following:
- Surgery
- Chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy
- Palliative therapy or procedures that do not remove the tumor but are done to alleviate symptoms
- Clinical Trials

What types of Surgeries are performed for pancreatic cancer?
• Depending on the size and location of the tumor, surgery may include a Whipple, Distal Pancreatectomy,
or a Total Pancreatectomy.

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