Overview of Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is an organ of the digestive system. It is located near the stomach and small intestine and has two major jobs or functions. The exocrine pancreas makes enzymes that help in the digestion of food products, and the endocrine pancreas produces several hormones that have diverse functions. Cancers of the pancreas can occur in the exocrine pancreas (classic pancreatic adenocarcinomas) or in the endocrine pancreas. This section will discuss exocrine pancreatic carcinoma.

Cancers of the exocrine pancreas are a very serious health issue in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 38,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 34,000 people die from the disease each year.

Due to difficulties in diagnosis, the aggressive nature of pancreatic cancer, and the limited systemic treatments available, the five-year survival rate (number of patients who are alive 5 years after diagnosis) for patients who have pancreatic adenocarcinoma is only about 5%.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Because many patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have a poor prognosis, it is very important that patients are offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. Patients who have pancreatic cancer should speak with a physician regarding clinical trials that are available.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 15 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 18 May 2011