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The pancreas is a long, flat organ located deep in the abdomen. It is serves two major functions: hormone production and digestion. In addition to secreting enzymes that help the body absorb nutrients during digestion, it also helps regulate blood sugar with hormones such as insulin.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when mutations in your DNA cause cells to grow uncontrollably to form a tumor. Most often, pancreatic cancer begins in the cells lining the ducts throughout the pancreas.
Exocrine (pronounced X-so-crin) tumors account for 95 percent of all pancreatic cancer diagnoses. Exocrine tumors of the pancreas include:
Pancreatic exocrine tumors are diagnosed using radiographic imaging and confirmed by biopsy.
The treatment for exocrine pancreas tumors may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or a combination of these therapies.
Endocrine tumors are less common, only accounting for about 5 percent of pancreatic tumors. Often called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) or islet cell tumors, they are found in islet (endocrine) cells scattered throughout the pancreas. These tumors may carry a better prognosis than exocrine tumors.
Types of endocrine, or NETs, include:
Our team will perform diagnostic imaging tests such as abdominal CT scans, octreoscans or PET scans and confirm diagnosis with endoscopic or percutaneous biopsy.
These tests will help to determine the specific tumor type and stage of the tumor, so that our team can create a personalized treatment plan for you.
Some growths in the pancreas are benign (not cancer) or may be considered “precancerous” (if left untreated, they will become cancerous over time). In some cases, these growths will not require treatment.
Cysts are one type of benign and precancerous growth in the pancreas. Pancreatic cysts are saclike pockets growing in your pancreas.
There are many types of cysts, each with different symptoms and treatments. The most common types of cysts are:
Pancreatic cysts often are found during radiology imaging tests such as CT and MRI scans and are often confirmed with endoscopic imaging.
Pancreatic cysts can be associated with certain underlying hereditary disorders such as von Hippel-Lindau disease and are seen in about 10 percent of patients with polycystic kidney disease.
CT, MRI and other tests better identify which cysts may need surgery. These include cases with findings such as:
Surgical options may include a traditional open approach, or if safe, minimally invasive options such as laparoscopic or robotic-assisted surgery.
Solid pseudopapillary neoplasms (SPNs) are another type of benign pancreatic growth. These are rare, slow-growing tumors that commonly develop in young women. Your team will work with you to determine if surgery is required or whether this tumor can be closely monitored.