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It's not clear what causes pancreatic cancer.

Understanding your pancreas

Your pancreas is about 6 inches (about 15 centimeters) long and looks something like a pear lying on its side. The pancreas secretes hormones, including insulin, to help your body process sugar in the foods you eat. And it produces digestive juices to help your body digest food.

How pancreatic cancer forms

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in your pancreas develop mutations in their DNA. These mutations cause cells to grow uncontrollably and to continue living after normal cells would die. These accumulating cells can form a tumor.

Most pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas. This type of cancer is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma or pancreatic exocrine cancer.

Rarely, cancer can form in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas. This type of cancer is called islet cell cancer or pancreatic endocrine cancer.

Mar. 27, 2014