What Is Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma?

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is a type of pancreatic cancer that starts in the ducts of the pancreas. In the pancreas, there is a system of small ducts that come together in the main pancreatic duct. These ducts are responsible for bringing the digestive enzymes that the pancreas produces to the first part of the small intestine (called the duodenum) to aid in digestion. As the most common form of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma accounts for about 95 percent of all pancreatic malignancies.

What causes adenocarcinoma of the pancreas?

Like with all forms of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma occurs when the DNA in pancreatic cells mutate, causing the cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. It is not well understood what causes this to happen, though researchers have identified several factors that they think may play a role:

  • Genetics
  • Having chronic pancreatitis
  • Alcoholism, which causes pancreatic inflammation
  • Environmental factors, such as exposure to radiation

How is adenocarcinoma of the pancreas detected?

There is currently no reliable screening method for pancreatic cancer, so this malignancy often isn’t found until the cancer has progressed to cause noticeable symptoms. The following methods are commonly used to detect pancreatic adenocarcinoma:

  • CA19-9 radioimmunoassay – This test detects the CA19-9 protein, which is an antigen released by pancreatic cancer cells.
  • Bilirubin test – Patients with jaundice (a yellowing of the skin) may have a bilirubin test to help determine the cause of their jaundice, such as a blockage of the bile duct due to pancreatic cancer.
  • CT scan – A computed tomography scan may be ordered to check for any tumors in the pancreas.

Is adenocarcinoma of the pancreas curable?

The prognosis for patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma varies based on several individual factors including the cancer’s stage at the time of diagnosis and each patient’s overall health. Patients in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program benefit from individualized treatment plans that meet the unique challenges of their cancer, which helps to improve their prognosis and achieve a better quality of life. 

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma and would like to request a consultation at Moffitt, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.