Pancreatic cancer is the uncontrolled growth of malignant (cancerous) cells formed in the tissues of the pancreas. The cancer may develop in the head, body, or tail of the pancreas.
The pancreas is a gland found behind the stomach and extends across the abdomen. It has two distinct functions. The exocrine gland cells make pancreatic juices that have enzymes to break down fats and proteins in foods so the body can use them. Most of the cells in the pancreas are part of the exocrine system. A smaller number of cells in the pancreas are endocrine cells. These cells are arranged in clusters called islets, which make hormones, such as insulin, that help balance the amount of sugar in the blood.
The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2008 almost 38,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 34,000 will die of the disease.1
1 American Cancer Society Web site: "Cancer Facts & Figures 2008."
2 Mayo Clinic Web site: www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00357
3 American Cancer Society Web site: "How is Cancer of the Pancreas Treated?"