Causes and Differences Between Exocrine and Endocrine Pancreas Cancers

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Video compliments of the National Pancreas Foundation

The Pancreas Performs Two Different Functions.
So There Are Two Main Types of Pancreatic Cancer.

Written By: Tony Subia
April 17, 2022

Like all organ and tissue cancers, pancreatic cancer is caused by gene mutations which causes pancreas cells to multiply uncontrollably. They will continue to live whereas normal cells will die. As uncontrolled, abnormal cancerous pancreas cells multiply, they bond together to form a malignant tumor. The tumor will continue enlarging as the abnormal cells continue to multiply.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it takes at least 10 years for the first pancreatic cancer cell within a pancreatic lesion to turn into a full-fledged cancer cell. It can take about an additional 7 years after the first cancer cell appears to multiply into billions of cancerous cells to form a malignant tumor the size of a plum.

There Are Two Areas of The Pancreas Where Cancer Can Occur

The pancreas serves a dual purpose. Pancreatic cancer can occur in both the “Exocrine” and “Endocrine” areas of the pancreas

> The “Exocrine Purpose” is to produce digestive enzymes to help digest food into nutrients.

> The “Endocrine Purpose” is to produce hormones including Insulin and Glugagon that perform together to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream.

Over 90% of pancreatic cancers begin in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas which occurs in the Exocrine Portion of the pancreas. Those pancreatic cancers are overwhelmingly referred to as “Pancreatic Adencarsinoma” which is the most aggressive and most deadly type of pancreas cancer. Generally when people speak of pancreatic cancer, they generally mean pancreatic carcinoma.

Cancer that occurs in the Endocrine Function are generally referred to as pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer which represents less than 5% of pancreas cancers and is much less aggressive versus pancreatic adenocarcinoma.


Johns Hopkins Medicine
The Pancreas Center
Pancreatic Cancer
Mayo Clinic

This article discusses what causes types of pancreatic cancer and the dual roles of the pancreas including the Exocrine and Endocrine functions of the pancreas. The information is only provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Always consult with your medical providers for medical advice.

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