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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 grown uncontrollably. These cells can form a tumor. Most often pancreatic cancer begins in the cells of the small sacs that line 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 a diagnostic laparoscopy. This procedure provides high resolution imaging, allowing physicians to see the tumor and cancer cells with greater precision.
Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or a combination of these therapies.
Endocrine tumors are less common, accounting for about 5 percent of pancreatic tumors. Often called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) or islet cell tumors, they are found in islet cells (endocrine) scattered throughout the pancreas. These tumors may carry a better prognosis than exocrine tumors. Some may not need surgery and may not be cancerous.
Types of endocrine, or NETs, include:
Our team will perform diagnostic tests such as abdominal CT scan, endoscopic ultrasound and laparotomy (a surgical procedure to obtain a 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.
Most often, chemotherapy is the first line of treatment for NETs. Chemotherapy is typically followed by surgery to remove some NETs, especially if the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body.
Other surgeries remove different parts of the pancreas and other organs, including the Whipple procedure.
Some growths in the pancreas are benign (not cancer) or may be considered “precancerous” (if left untreated, they will become cancerous over time). In most cases these growths will 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:
Pancreas cysts often are found during radiology imaging tests such as endoscopic ultrasound, CT or MRI scans for another problem.
Pancreas 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 where a cyst is larger than 3 centimeters or growing; has a solid component; is causing pressure on nearby structures such as the bile duct or if the main pancreatic duct is widened.
Surgery may be minimally invasive laparoscopy, traditional open surgery or robotic-assisted surgery.
Other benign pancreas growths include: