What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

A number of different tumors can arise in the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer is commonly used to refer to infiltrating ductal adenocarcinoma. Infiltrating ductal adenocarcinoma is a highly malignant tumor that forms glands (small spaces) under the microscope. This type of cancer can be suspected based on imaging tests such as the CAT scan, and can be definitively diagnosed with a fine needle aspiration (FNA), biopsy, or resection. The most important prognostic indicator for infiltrating ductal adenocarcinoma is the stage of the cancer. (Has the cancer spread beyond the pancreas, and if so, how far has the cancer spread?).

Although not as common as infiltrating ductal adenocarcinoma, a number of other tumors can arise in the pancreas. Two of the more common ones form cysts, or fluid-filled spaces. These include mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs) and intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs). These two cyst-forming tumors are important to recognize because some, if left untreated, may progress to infiltrating ductal adenocarcinomas. Just as removing a colon polyp can prevent that polyp from growing into a colon cancer, so to do MCNs and IPMNs represent an opportunity to cure a pancreatic cancer by treating it before it has developed into a cancer.

Another tumor of the pancreas that deserves special note is the islet cell tumor, also known as the well-differentiated endocrine neoplasm. These tumors are unique for several reasons. First, they can produce hormones such as insulin, and these hormones may cause distinct symptoms. Second, patients with these tumors have a much better prognosis than do patients with infiltrating ductal adenocarcinomas. It is therefore important that this entity is correctly diagnosed and treated.

To learn more about islet cell tumors of the pancreas click here: http://pathology.jhu.edu/pancreas/TreatmentEndocrine.php