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Types of pancreatic cancer

There are different types of pancreatic cancer. They are divided into two main groups, based on the different types of cells found in the pancreas.

  • Exocrine tumours start in the exocrine cells, where enzymes that help to digest food are made. Ninety-six out of a hundred (96%) pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumours. The most common type of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), is an exocrine tumour.
  • Neuroendocrine tumours start in the neuroendocrine cells. These cells produce hormones that help control the normal functions of the body. For example, they produce insulin which helps to control the level of sugar in the blood. These tumours are known as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours or pancreatic NETs. You may also hear them called PNETs or pancNETS. 

Diagram showing the anatomy of the pancreas

Anatomy of the pancreas

The pancreas can also be affected by pancreatic cysts, or by other cancers that grow in structures close to it or inside it.

Exocrine tumours

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC)

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a type of exocrine pancreatic cancer. It is the most common type of pancreatic cancer – 95 out of 100 (95%) of all pancreatic cancers are PDAC.

PDAC 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, though it is most often found in the head of the pancreas. Symptoms can include tummy (abdominal) and back pain, weight loss and changes to bowel habits. Read more about the symptoms of PDAC.

Rare exocrine cancers

One in a hundred pancreatic cancers (1%) are rare exocrine cancers.

Acinar cell carcinoma

Fewer than one out of a hundred pancreatic cancers (less than 1%) are acinar cell carcinomas. Acinar cell carcinoma is 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 pain, weight loss, and feeling and being sick (nausea and vomiting).

Solid pseudopapillary neoplasm

Solid pseudopapillary neoplasms grow mostly in the body and tail of the pancreas. They are more common in younger women. Symptoms can include a lump in the tummy, tummy pain, weight loss and sickness.


This rare type of pancreatic cancer mostly affects children. It is extremely rare in adults.

Questions to ask

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

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

Read about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PancNETs)

Read about pancreatic cysts

Find out about other cancers linked with the pancreas

Information Standard

Updated: November 2018

Review date: November 2021