Pancreatic cancer happens when cells that aren’t normal grow and start to form tumors in the pancreas, a small organ located deep in the belly, behind your stomach. The pancreas makes juices that help your body digest food. It also makes insulin and other hormones that help control your blood sugar.
Experts don’t know what causes pancreatic cancer. But they do know that changes in the body’s DNA play a role in many cancers.
There are two main types of pancreatic tumors: exocrine and endocrine. The type of tumor depends on which type of cells are involved. Exocrine cells make digestive juices. Endocrine cells make insulin. Most people with pancreatic cancer have exocrine tumors, which grow faster than endocrine tumors.
Treatments are more successful when cancer is found early. But in most cases, pancreatic cancer has already spread by the time it is found.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom, says McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Nathan Bahary, MD, PhD, to Denise Mann, MS, from MSN. “Survival is now 9 percent, up from 4 percent. That’s progress.”
Cancer specialists are experimenting with chemotherapy combinations and treating the cancer before surgery, says Dr. Bahary, associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh. He also holds a secondary appointment as an Associate Professor in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. “In the next five years, I hope we will double the survival rate, and in 10 to 20 years, I hope we find a way to detect it early and find better ways to treat spreading disease,” he says.