Pancreatic cancer is classified according to which part of the pancreas is affected: the part that makes digestive secretions (exocrine) or the part that makes insulin and other hormones (endocrine).

Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer

Although there are several different types of pancreatic cancer, 95% of cases are due to pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
Other less common exocrine pancreatic cancers include:

  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Giant cell carcinoma
  • Acinar cell carcinoma

The exocrine pancreas makes up 95% of the pancreas, so it’s not surprising that most pancreatic cancers arise here.

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Endocrine Pancreatic Cancer

Other cells of the pancreas make hormones that are released directly into the bloodstream (endocrine system). Cancer arising from one of these cells is called neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer or islet cell pancreatic cancer.
Endocrine pancreatic cancers are quite rare, and are named according to what kind of hormone-producing cell it starts from:

  • Insulinomas (from an insulin-producing cell)
  • Glucagonomas (from a glucagon-producing cell)
  • Somatostatinomas (from a somatostatin-making cell)
  • Gastrinomas (from a gastrin-producing cell)
  • VIPomas (from vasoactive intestinal peptide-making cell)

Endocrine tumors usually are not cancer at all; they are nonmalignant growths. These “benign” tumors are not considered pancreatic cancer. However, they may grow to a large size or secrete unhealthy quantities of hormones, causing medical problems.

Ampullary Cancer (Carcinoma of the Ampulla of Vater)

Cancer can develop where the tube (duct) that drains the pancreas enters the small intestine (an opening called the ampulla). Although it’s not technically pancreatic cancer, ampullary cancer causes symptoms similar to pancreatic cancer, and is treated similarly.

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