Pancreatic cancer is a malignant neoplasm of the pancreas. Each year in the United States, about 42,470 individuals are diagnosed with this condition and 35,240 die from the disease. The prognosis is relatively poor but has improved; the three-year survival rate is now about thirty percent (according to the Washington University School of Medicine), but less than 5 percent of those diagnosed are still alive five years after diagnosis. Complete remission is still rather rare.
About 95% of exocrine pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas. The remaining 5% include adenosquamous carcinomas, signet ring cell carcinomas, hepatoid carcinomas, colloid carcinomas, undifferentiated carcinomas, and undifferentiated carcinomas with osteoclast-like giant cells. Exocrine pancreatic cancers are far more common than endocrine pancreatic cancers (also known as islet cell carcinomas), which make up about 1% of total cases.
The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It is shaped a little bit like a fish with a wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. It is about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide and extends horizontally across the abdomen. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen, behind the place where the stomach meets the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The body of the pancreas is located behind the stomach and the tail of the pancreas is on the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.
The pancreas contains 2 different types of glands: exocrine and endocrine.
The exocrine glands make pancreatic "juice," which is released into the intestines. This juice contains enzymes that help you digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in the food you eat. Without these, some of the food you eat would just pass through your intestines without being absorbed. The enzymes are released into tiny tubes called ducts. These tiny ducts merge together to form larger ducts that empty into the pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct merges with the common bile duct (the duct that carries bile from the liver), and empties the pancreatic juice into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). More than 95% of the cells in the pancreas are exocrine glands and ducts.
A small percentage of the cells in the pancreas are endocrine cells. These cells are arranged in small clusters called islets (or islets of Langerhans). The islets release important hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, directly into the blood. Insulin reduces the amount of sugar in the blood, while glucagon increases it. Diabetes results from a defect in insulin production.
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