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What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Front view of liver, gallbladder, stomach, and pancreas.Cancer happens when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that starts in the pancreas is called pancreatic cancer.

Understanding the pancreas

The pancreas is a gland (an organ that makes substances the body needs) located in the abdomen (stomach area). One of its jobs is to make pancreatic enzymes. They travel to the small intestine to help digest food. The pancreas also makes hormones, like insulin and glucagon, to help control the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

When pancreatic cancer forms

Pancreatic cancer forms when cells in the pancreas change and multiply abnormally. This cancer can interfere with the working of the pancreas and may invade nearby organs. Pancreatic cancer may also spread to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. The more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Treatment choices for pancreatic cancer

You and your healthcare provider will discuss a treatment plan that's best for your needs. Treatment choices may include:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer in the pancreas and sometimes surrounding tissue.

  • Radiation therapy, which uses directed rays of energy to kill cancer cells.

  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Last Review Date: 6/1/2016
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