Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer vs. Pancreatic Cancer

What is the difference between a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor and a pancreatic tumor?

A few high profile celebrities, Aretha Franklin and Steve Jobs, have died from pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. Following their deaths, their cancer was often called “pancreatic cancer” because it was cancer and it occurred in the pancreas. Why is this wrong?

Though they occur in the same organ, these are two different types of cancers. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma and neuroendocrine cancers have different:

  • Causes
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Tests
  • Treatments
  • Outlooks

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is often referred to as “pancreatic cancer.” It starts in the exocrine cells, which produces enzymes to support digestion.

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma

  • More common
  • Poorer chance of recovery
  • May not cause early symptoms. Advanced signs and late symptoms include:
    • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
    • Light-colored stools
    • Dark urine
    • Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
    • Weight loss
    • Loss of appetite
    • Feeling very tired

Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer

Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer is sometimes called islet cell carcinoma. It starts in the endocrine cells, which produce hormones to regulate blood sugar.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer

  • Less common
  • Better chance of recovery
  • Tumors may produce hormones and cause early symptoms, such as:
    • Diarrhea
    • Indigestion
    • Blood sugar changes
    • Weight loss
    • Stomach pain
    • Jaundice (Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
    • Skin rash on face, stomach, or legs

Read the full article on Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation HERE.