The pancreas is a small gland located in the abdomen between the stomach and the intestines. It is mainly composed of the exocrine cells that make digestive enzymes and the endocrine (islet) cells that make hormones such as insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer occurs when a cell in the pancreas is damaged and starts to grow out of control.

The vast majority of pancreatic cancers (adenocarcinoma) start in exocrine cells found in the pancreas ducts or small channels that carry digestive enzymes to the intestines. As pancreatic cancer grows, it can spread to surrounding organs – such as the bile duct, stomach, adjacent blood vessels, lymph nodes and the liver.