Last year, there were over 45,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer in the U.S. To better understand cancer of the pancreas, it’s helpful to know a little more about the pancreas itself.

Your pancreas has 2 different kinds of glands:

  • Exocrine: These glands make fluids with enzymes. These break down the fats and proteins in foods. Most cells in the pancreas are exocrine.
  • Endocrine: These glands are arranged in clusters called islets. Their job is to make hormones.

Most endocrine tumors are benign. These are also called islet cell or neuroendocrine tumors.

Like all cancers, pancreatic cancer involves the production of abnormal cells.

The body is programmed to routinely replenish cells in different organs. As normal cells age or get damaged, they die off. New cells take their place. This is what’s supposed to happen. Abnormal cell growth refers to a buildup of extra cells. This happens when:

  • New cells form even though the body doesn’t need them or
  • Old, damaged cells don’t die off.

These extra cells slowly accumulate to form a tissue mass, lump, or growth called a pancreatic tumor. These abnormal cells can destroy normal body tissue and spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system.

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