Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas multiply the cells of the pancreas multiply at an abnormal and uncontrolled rate. Instead of the cells developing into normal healthy tissues, the mutated cells continue segmenting and forming tumors. The tumors are classified into two categories; benign and malignant.
Benign tumors are tumors that do not spread or interfere with the normal functions of the organ affected. Malignant or cancerous tumors are life-threatening since they develop and spread through the lymphatic system and blood affecting other parts of the body.
They are harder to treat since they multiply and spread (metastasize) at a rapid rate destroying healthy tissues in the body. Additionally, the pancreas is an organ found behind the stomach that produces insulin, digestive fluids, and hormones that regulate sugar in the blood. This organ has two types of cells, exocrine, and endocrine that make up the pancreatic glands. (1)
What Are The Types of Pancreatic Cancer?
It is crucial for a patient to understand the type of pancreatic cancer they have. It’s essential to look at the two primary pancreatic glands exocrine and endocrine. Both organs form distinct tumor types, different risk elements, and cause and have different signs and symptoms.
The majority of the pancreatic cells make up the exocrine gland and ducts which develop digestive enzymes that are released into the small intestines through a collection of ducts. These enzymes also assist in the digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Endocrine cells form clusters called ‘Islets of Langerhans.’ Finally, these groups are responsible for the production of the hormones needed to control blood sugar levels in the body. (2)
Exocrine Pancreatic Cancers
Almost 95% of pancreatic cancer cases are classified as exocrine tumor related. Various types of exocrine pancreatic cancers include:
- Adenocarcinomas Cancers: Adenocarcinomas begin in the pancreas ducts when the abnormal cells from malignant tumors that grow big enough, destroying healthy tissues and causing symptoms such as back pain.These tumors then metastasize to other organs such as the lymph nodes or liver.
- Acinar Cell Carcinomas: Secondly, this is a rare form of pancreatic cancer that mostly occurs in men. It causes overproduction of digestive enzymes by the pancreas.
- Adenosquamous Carcinomas: Lastly, this type of cancer is similar to adenocarcinomas in that it develops in the glands. A distinct feature of this kind of cancer is that the cells start to flatten out as they form (squamous differentiation).
Also referred to as islet tumors, they are less common than exocrine tumors and make about 1% of all pancreatic cancers. They can either be functional or nonfunctional. Functional neuroendocrine tumors produce hormones while nonfunctional do not.
Useful neuroendocrine may produce very active hormones resulting in extremely dramatic symptoms. They are different types which include Insulinomas that when excreting significant amounts of the insulin hormone, hypoglycemia occurs. Lastly, glucagonomas which produce the glucagon hormone may result in a very unusual skin rash.