About the Pancreas |
What is Cancer? |
Pancreatic Cancer |
Normally, cells grow and divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This
orderly process keeps the body healthy. Sometimes cells keep dividing when new cells are not
needed, forming a mass of extra tissue called a growth or a tumor. Tumors can be malignant or
benign. Malignant tumors, or cancer, occur when cells divide without order and invade and destroy
the tissue around them. Benign tumors occur when cells divide abnormally, but there is no spread
into other tissues.
Benign tumors are not cancer and usually do not threaten life. They often can be removed, and they
usually do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body (e.g. they
do not metastasize). There are many types of benign tumors of the pancreas and in general they are
relatively uncommon tumors.
Malignant tumors are cancer. Cancer cells divide without control, invading and destroying the tissue
around them. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the blood or lymph
system. This process, called metastasis, is the way that cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
There are different types of cancer that can occur in the pancreas, but the most common type of cancer
begins in the ducts that carry pancreatic digestive juices to the small bowel. Because the cancer starts
in the pancreatic ducts, we refer to it as ductal adenocarcinoma. This is the type of cancer most people
think about when talking about pancreatic cancer.