Pancreatic Cancer

Jeffrey Drebin, Chair of the Department of Surgery at MSK and Acting Hospital President, analyzing computer screens with a female colleague.

Jeffrey Drebin, Chair of the Department of Surgery and Acting Hospital President, and our other pancreatic cancer specialists have developed an extensive program for diagnosing and treating patients.

If you’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you’re probably facing many overwhelming decisions. Where should you go for care? What’s your first step? At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we’re constantly thinking of those questions — and how we can be the answer to all of them. Each member of your team is an expert in pancreatic cancer and is dedicated to giving you the best medical outcome and quality of life possible.

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About Pancreatic Cancer

The Pancreas

The Pancreas

The pancreas is a small gland located in the abdomen between the stomach and the intestines. It’s mainly made of a type of cell called an exocrine cell, which makes enzymes that help you digest food. A very small portion of the pancreas is made of endocrine cells, which make hormones such as insulin that control blood-sugar levels.

Types of Pancreatic Tumors

As many as 20 different types of tumors can be found in the pancreas. Most start in the pancreas ducts, small channels that carry digestive enzymes to the intestines. These cancers are often a type of adenocarcinoma that begins in the tissue lining the gland.

Less commonly, pancreatic tumors arise in the islet cells. These pancreatic neuroendocrine (islet cell) tumors are a type of neuroendocrine tumor found in the pancreas.

Pancreatic Cyst Surveillance Program
Learn about MSK’s program for people with pancreatic cysts that need to be watched carefully over time for signs of cancer.

As a pancreatic tumor grows, it can invade nearby organs, such as the bile duct, intestines, or stomach. It can also move into neighboring blood vessels. Tumor cells can also break away and spread to the lymph nodes, liver, or elsewhere in the abdomen.

Although pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon, it’s the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The number of new cases has also been rising. The disease rarely causes symptoms in its early stages, so it’s usually diagnosed only after it has metastasized (spread) from the pancreas to other parts of the body.

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s pancreatic cancer team is one of the nation’s largest and busiest clinical and research practices. Each of our nearly 30 experts works as part of this larger team to give you the most effective treatment plan possible.

We use a physical exam, imaging tests, and a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. We may then recommend treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these. What we suggest for you depends on the stage of your disease. Our surgeons perform more than 300 pancreatic cancer procedures each year. They are experts in traditional as well as minimally invasive approaches.

Developments in chemotherapy that combine treatments have helped shrink cancer and slow its progression. MSK radiation oncologists are also pioneering new techniques to treat the disease and enhance your quality of life. As lead investigators in multiple clinical trials, we often offer people access to new therapies being explored to treat this cancer.