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What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in any part of the pancreas. About 70% of pancreatic cancers are found in the head of the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes and to the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). Cancer cells may also travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, suchas the liver.

What are the main types?

There are two main types of pancreatic cancer:

Exocrine tumours – These make up more than 95% of pancreatic cancers. The most common type is called adenocarcinoma, and it starts in the exocrine cells lining the pancreatic duct. Less common types include adenosquamous carcinoma, acinar cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and undifferentiated carcinoma.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) – About 5% of cancers in the pancreas are pancreatic NETs. These start in the endocrine cells.

This information is about exocrine tumours of the pancreas, particularly pancreatic adenocarcinomas. For more information about how pancreatic NETs are diagnosed and treated, see our ‘Understanding Neuroendocrine Tumours fact sheet‘.

How common is pancreatic cancer?

About 4260 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. More than 80% are over the age of 60.

Pancreatic cancer was estimated to be the eighth most common cancer in Australia in 2021. A person has a 1 in 69 chance of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the age of 85.

Featured resources

Pancreatic Cancer - Your best guide to cancer care

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Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed February 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Benjamin Loveday, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Palliative Medicine Physician, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Hollie Bevans, Senior Dietitian, Radiotherapy and Oncology, Western Health, VIC; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Amanda Maxwell, Consumer; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper GI Oncology Service, Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Meg Rogers, Nurse Consultant Upper GI/NET Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ady Sipthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.