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Types of pancreatic cancer

There are different types of pancreatic cancer. The most common type is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Pancreatic cancers are divided into two main groups:

  • Exocrine tumours start in the exocrine cells of the pancreas, where enzymes which help digest food are made. About 95 out of 100 (95%) pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumours.
  • Endocrine tumours (also called neuroendocrine tumours) start in the endocrine cells, which produce hormones that help control the level of sugar in the blood.

Diagram showing the anatomy of the pancreas

Anatomy of the pancreas

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC)

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is a type of exocrine pancreatic cancer. It develops from cells lining small tubes in the pancreas called ducts (duct cells in the diagram above). These carry the digestive juices, which contain enzymes, into the main pancreatic duct and then on into the duodenum (first part of the small intestine).

PDAC can grow anywhere in the pancreas, although it is most often found in the head of the pancreas. Read about the symptoms of PDAC.

Rare exocrine cancers

Acinar cell carcinoma

Acinar cell carcinoma is rare – about one or two out of a hundred pancreatic cancers (1-2%). It may be more common in men. It develops in the acinar cells at the end of the ducts (see diagram above), which produce the digestive enzymes. Symptoms can include tummy (abdominal) pain, weight loss, and feeling and being sick (nausea and vomiting).

Solid pseudopapillary neoplasm

Solid pseudopapillary neoplasms are rare, and can grow anywhere in the pancreas. They are more common in younger women. Symptoms can include tummy pain, feeling and being sick, and a lump in the tummy.

Pancreatoblastoma

This type of pancreatic cancer is very rare. It usually affects children.

If you have any questions about your cancer, speak to your medical team. You can also call our specialist nurses on our Support Line.

You may be more likely to get pancreatic cancer (both exocrine and neuroendocrine tumours) if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer. In most cases pancreatic cancer doesn’t run in families. However, a small number of rare genetic conditions are linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Questions to ask

  • What type of pancreatic cancer do I have?
  • Is it an exocrine or neuroendocrine tumour?
  • Where in my pancreas is the cancer?
  • How is this type of cancer treated?

Information Standard

Published August 2016

Review date August 2018

Read about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETs), which start in the endocrine cells

Find out about other cancers linked with the pancreas

Read about other conditions of the pancreas