The pancreas is a narrow gland that lies deep in the abdomen between the stomach and the spine. It is about 15cm long and is made up of the head, body and tail. The head lies next to the first part of the small intestine (duodenum) and the lower end of the bile duct.
The pancreas has two key functions as part of the digestive system. It produces the hormone insulin that controls the level of sugar in the body, and produces pancreatic enzymes that aid in the chemical breakdown of food so nutrients can be absorbed in the intestine. These enzymes flow down the pancreatic duct into the small intestine.
More than 90% of pancreatic cancers start from the cells in the inner lining of the pancreatic ducts. These are called adenocarcinomas. The most common site is in the head of the pancreas. The other types of pancreatic cancer are much less common and include:
- Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are a group of tumours that produce hormones. For more information on NETs, visit the Unicorn Foundation.
- Lymphoma is cancer of specialised cells that are part of the immune system. It can occur in the pancreas and in other parts of the digestive tract.
- Mucin producing tumours that grow along the pancreatic ducts and cause obstruction (intraduct papillary mucinous neoplasm). These tumours can be benign or malignant.