Portions of the following were provided by the National Cancer Institute

Pancreatic hormones help the body use or store the energy that comes from food. For example, insulin helps control the amount of sugar (a source of energy) in the blood. The pancreas releases insulin and other hormones when they are needed. The hormones enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 29,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, or carcinoma of the pancreas, each year.

More than 100 different types of cancer are known, and several types of cancer can develop in the pancreas. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry pancreatic fluids. A rare type of pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that produce insulin and other hormones. These cells are called islet cells, or the islets of Langerhans. Cancers that begin in these cells are called islet cell cancer.

More men than women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and African-Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics or whites to get pancreatic cancer. The likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age, with most pancreatic cancers occurring in people over the age of 60. Cigarette smokers are two or three times more likely than non-smokers to develop pancreatic cancer. And, pancreatic cancer occurs more often in people who have diabetes than in people who do not.

As pancreatic cancer grows, the tumor may invade organs that surround the pancreas, such as the stomach or small intestine. Pancreatic cancer cells also may break away from the tumor and spread to other parts of the body. When pancreatic cancer cells spread, they often form new tumors in lymph nodes and the liver, and sometimes in the lungs or bones. The new tumors have the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor in the pancreas. For example, if pancreatic cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are pancreatic cancer cells. The disease is metastatic pancreatic cancer; it is not liver cancer.

In 2006, the American Journal of Clinical Oncology published an abstract by SCTWC medical director Dr. Ben Chue on a promising new treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer. A clinical trial is currently underway testing the new protocol. Click here to read the abstract. To see how one patient responded, click here to read Aaron Barrett’s story.