Cancer of the pancreas is the malignant growth of abnormal cells that arise in the pancreas. The uncontrollable multiplication of these cells forms a mass, or tumor, and is a dire threat to healthy tissue and bodily function. Depending on where the tumors are in the pancreas, they can interfere with the normal tasks of the pancreas, resulting in diabetes or serious digestive problems.
Pancreatic cancer is not one disease – in fact, as many as twenty different tumors have been grouped under the term, “cancer of the pancreas” – and prognoses and treatment options vary based on the specific tumor found, its stage, and its location (pancreatic cancer can manifest in the head, body or tail of the pancreas). Primarily, cancer of the pancreas can be broadly sub-grouped into exocrine tumors and endocrine tumors.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that roughly 46,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed each year in America. It is the third leading cause of American cancer deaths each year.
For a much more detailed explanation of the many forms of pancreatic cancer, please visit the website of the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, which is supported in part by the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
Staging cancer is a standardized method to classify a tumor based on its location, its size, and its spread. Staging a tumor allows doctors to evaluate a patient’s prognosis and prescribe an appropriate course of action.
Cancers found in their early stages usually have more surgical options than those found in late stages (some of which are unresectable – meaning they cannot be removed completely through surgery; though other treatment options exist). Generally, early stage cancers also have more favorable prognoses.