Pancreatic cancer types

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on May 10, 2022.

Pancreatic cancer is classified into two main types: those that form in the exocrine gland and those that form in the endocrine gland. About 93 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine (enzyme-producing) cells of the pancreas.

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma

Most of the pancreas is made of exocrine cells, and most tumors affecting these cells are called adenocarcinomas. Found in many other cancers, including breast, prostate and lung, adenocarcinomas most often form in glands that secrete fluids. Pancreatic adenocarcinomas are the most common type of pancreatic cancer and most often form in the exocrine cells found in pancreas ducts. Treatment for adenocarcinomas of the pancreas is based on the stage and size of the tumor.

Rare types of pancreatic cancer exocrine tumors

Rare types of pancreatic cancer include those listed below.

Acinar cell carcinoma: Representing fewer than 1 percent of all primary pancreatic tumors, acinar cell carcinoma develops in the cells where pancreatic enzymes form.

Intraductal papillary-mucinous neoplasm (IPMN): Approximately 7.5 percent of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed as IPMNs. This type of cancer develops within the ductal system of the pancreas. 

Mucinous cystic neoplasm (MCPN): MCPNs are rare pancreatic cancer types that are believed to be linked to female hormone production, and therefore mainly affect women.

Adenosquamous carcinoma (ASC): ASCs represent just 0.4 percent of pancreatic cancers and it has characteristics of both squamous cell carcinoma and ductal adenocarcinoma.  

Pancreatoblastoma: Representing fewer than 1 percent of all pancreatic tumors, pancreatoblastoma typically affects infants and children.

Pancreatic cancer endocrine tumors

These tumors are less common and are most often benign. Though rare, cancer stemming from a pancreatic endocrine tumor (PET) affects the hormone-producing cells. These tumors are also called islet cell tumors or neuroendocrine tumors.

Next topic: What are the stages of pancreatic cancer?

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