Introduction to pancreatic cancer
Cancer of the pancreas is diagnosed in more than 31,000 people in the United States every year. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death.
These pages discuss possible causes of cancer of the pancreas. They also describe symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and followup care. We hope this information can help patients and their families better understand and cope with this disease. But before making any medical decisions, consult your doctor.
Scientists are studying cancer of the pancreas to learn more about this disease. They are finding out more about its causes. Doctors are exploring new ways to treat it. Research already has led to better quality of life for people with cancer of the pancreas.
Information specialists at the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER can help people with questions about cancer and can send NCI publications. Also, many NCI publications are on the Internet at http://cancer.gov/publications.
Key internet resources for pancreatic cancer are also listed on the Links page of this web site.
The pancreas is a gland located deep in the abdomen between the stomach and the spine (backbone). The liver, intestine, and other organs surround the pancreas.
The pancreas is about 6 inches long and is shaped like a flat pear. The widest part of the pancreas is the head, the middle section is the body, and the thinnest part is the tail.
The pancreas makes insulin and other hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. They help the body use or store the energy that comes from food. For example, insulin helps control the amount of sugar in the blood.
The pancreas also makes pancreatic juices. These juices contain enzymes that help digest food. The pancreas releases the juices into a system of ducts leading to the common bile duct. The common bile duct empties into the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine.
This picture shows the pancreas, common bile duct, and small intestine.