At OC CyberKnife, we firmly believe that no matter how serious the condition or how difficult the outlook, there is always, always hope. As a world-class cancer treatment & radiation oncology center serving patients throughout the Orange County area, we’re proud to provide state-of-the-art cancer treatments for virtually any cancerous condition. With a suite of low-impact, effective treatments like CyberKnife, we are committed to helping our patients beat any form of cancer – including pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer comes in a number of subtypes, and it’s important to understand the different variations of the condition. Among the most significant types are exocrine and endocrine cancers – these affect exocrine and endocrine cells, respectively, which are two prominent cell types found in the pancreas. Both of these forms of cancers have distinct risk factors, causes, symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatments.
Exocrine cancers are the most common form of pancreatic cancer by a significant margin, accounting for more than 95% of all pancreatic cancer cases. Exocrine cancers come in a number of different subtypes:
Accounting for roughly 95% of pancreatic cancer cases, adenocarcinomas are by far the most common form of pancreatic cancer. They generally begin in the ducts of the pancreas, although they can also develop in the cells that produce pancreatic enzymes. In these cases, they’re called acinar cell carcinomas.
In addition to adenocarcinomas, exocrine cancers can include adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, signet ring cell carcinomas, undifferentiated carcinomas, and undifferentiated carcinomas with giant cells. These forms are all exocrine cancers, but they collectively make up only a small portion of pancreatic exocrine cancer cases.
Another relatively uncommon form of exocrine cancer, this form starts in the ampulla of the Vater, the area where the bile duct and the pancreatic duct merge and empty into the small intestine. While this condition isn’t technically a form of true pancreatic cancer, treatment is very similar, so it’s often grouped together with pancreatic cancer. Often ampullary cancers block the bile duct while still relatively small, causing jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). While this may seem like a bad thing, it actually leads to more frequent early diagnosis and treatment, giving ampullary cancers a relatively good prognosis in comparison to other forms of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic endocrine tumors are extremely uncommon, accounting for less than 5% of all pancreatic cancer cases. These tumors are often also referred to as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) or islet cell tumors.
Pancreatic NETs may form as a benign (noncancerous) tumor or a malignant cancer. Unfortunately, both types look virtually the same under a microscope, so it’s often very difficult to diagnose an NET as benign or malignant. In some cases, doctors may not know if an NET is a cancer until it has spread outside the pancreas, which is a clear sign of malignancy.
While rare, pancreatic NETs come in a number of different types. They form three main subgroups:
Functioning NETs are tumors that create hormones and release them into the bloodstream, which can cause a range of symptoms. The different subtypes of functioning NETs are named for the hormones they produce:
Nonfunctioning NETs don’t produce the same levels of excess hormones, and thus they display different symptoms. They’re more often cancerous than functioning tumors, and unfortunately, because they don’t produce the same symptoms from excess hormones, they’re often not detected until they’ve grown significantly large.
The third form of NET, carcinoid tumors are most common in other parts of the digestive system but may form in the pancreas. Carcinoid tumors produce serotonin (5HT) or its precursor, 5HTP.
Staging systems provide a standardized way for doctors to diagnose the size of a cancer, how far it has spread, and how generally dangerous it is. As with most types of cancer, pancreatic cancer is staged using a TNM system, which relies on 3 key elements:
In the TNM staging systems, numbers or letters appear after each variable to classify how advanced the cancer is. Generally, the higher the number, the more serious and advanced the cancer.
Based on the T, N, and M categories of the tumor, your cancer doctor will determine the holistic stage of your cancer – whether stage 0, I, II, III, or IV. Pancreatic cancer stages go as follows:
Pancreatic cancer is among the most serious forms of cancer at any stage, but no matter how bleak things look, there’s always hope. Call us today at 714.962.7100 to learn more about the world-class radiation oncology treatments we have to offer, or contact OC CyberKnife online to see how we can help you beat cancer. Together, we’ll create a treatment plan that attacks your cancer head on and gives you the best possible chance at reclaiming a normal, healthy life.