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Other cancers linked with the pancreas

Some cancers grow in structures that are close to or inside the pancreas, such as the bile duct. They cause similar symptoms to pancreatic cancer. You may be offered an operation to remove the cancer called a Whipple's operation, which is also used to treat operable pancreatic cancer.

Less commonly, cancer in other parts of the body can spread to the pancreas. Strictly speaking, these cancers are not pancreatic cancers.

Diagram of the pancreas and surrounding organs

The pancreas and surrounding organs

Ampullary cancer

This is found in the ampulla of Vater. This is the area where the pancreatic duct and bile duct meet and empty into the duodenum (see diagram above). These tumours may block the bile duct. This means they often cause jaundice by blocking the flow of bile.

Intra-pancreatic bile duct cancer

Bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) can occur in any part of the bile duct. The bile duct is a tube that carries bile from the liver to the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).If bile duct cancer occurs where it passes through the pancreas it is called intra-pancreatic bile duct cancer or distal cholangiocarcinoma.

Bile duct cancer can be confused with pancreatic cancer, as it causes similar symptoms such as jaundice. AMMF  is a charity that supports people with bile duct cancer.

Duodenal cancer

The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine and is next to the pancreas. Duodenal cancer (cancer of the duodenum) causes symptoms similar to pancreatic cancer. It can block food moving through the duodenum to the rest of the bowel. It can also block the bile duct, causing jaundice.

Sometimes duodenal cancer can be removed without removing the pancreas. But if surgery is possible, the head of the pancreas is often also removed. This is a Whipple’s operation, which is used to treat operable pancreatic cancer.

Lymphoma of the pancreas

Lymphoma is a cancer of the body’s lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. It can occur anywhere in the body, including the pancreas, although this is rare. It is called primary pancreatic lymphoma.

Find out more about lymphoma from Lymphoma Action.

Metastatic (secondary) cancers

Sometimes cancer found in the pancreas has spread (metastasised) to the pancreas from another part of the body. Although this is unusual, kidney cancer, bowel cancer, melanoma (skin cancer), breast cancer and lung cancer can all spread to the pancreas.

Cancer that has spread from another part of the body is still called by its original name. For example, kidney cancer that has spread to the pancreas will still be kidney cancer, not pancreatic cancer. This means that if you have cancer that has spread to the pancreas, you will be treated by the medical team specialising in that particular cancer, rather than a team that specialises in pancreatic cancer. Although pancreatic surgeons may also be involved, as surgery is sometimes a treatment option.

If you have any questions about your cancer, speak to your medical team.

Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK have more information about these cancers.

Questions to ask

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • How is this cancer affecting my pancreas?
  • Who will treat me for this type of cancer?
  • Where can I find out more about treatment for this type of cancer?

Read about exocrine pancreatic cancer

Read about pancreatic cysts

Read about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PancNETs)

Information Standard

Updated: November 2018 

Review date: November 2021