Understanding Cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissue of your pancreas, which is an organ that lies behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes and hormones that are important for digestion - it breaks down sugar and other nutrients, helping you absorb them and controlling your blood sugar levels.

The most common type of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma. This accounts for 95% of all cases. A few cancers originate in pancreas cells that make hormones. These are called neuroendocrine tumours.

Typically cancer of the pancreas spreads quickly, which can make it difficult to treat.

In more detail

Most commonly, pancreatic tumours begin in the organ’s lining and are known as exocrine pancreatic tumours, or adenocarcinoma. These tumours account for 95% of all cases.

There are two common types of exocrine pancreatic tumours. Those that start in the ducts of the pancreas are called ductal adenocarcinoma. Much less commonly, a tumour can begin in the acini, which are parts of the pancreas that connect to the ducts. These are called acinar adenocarcinoma.

Rarer exocrine pancreatic tumours include: acinar cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, colloid carcinoma, giant cell tumour, hepatoid carcinoma, mucinous cystic neoplasms, pancreatoblastoma, serous cystdenoma, signet ring cell carcinoma, solid and pseudopapillary tumours, squamous cell carcinoma, and undifferentiated carcinoma.

Making up the remaining 5% of pancreatic cancer are tumours that originate in the islet cells of the pancreas, called Islet cell carcinoma or neuroendocrine tumours. Islet cells make hormones like gastrin, insulin, and glucagon. Tumours that cause the islet cells to overproduce these hormones are known as functional tumours. They can cause symptoms such as low blood sugar, diabetes, skin rashes, gallstones, stomach ulcers and diarrhoea. Tumours that do not affect the islet cells hormone production are called “non-functional” and most are malignant.

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The Patient Pathway


First Specialist Appointment

At the first specialist appointment you will meet with your specialist radiation oncologist (RO) to discuss the proposed radiotherapy treatment approach and answer any questions and concerns you may have.

Orientation

At the treatment planning appointment a patient care specialist (nurse or radiation therapist) will explain the procedures in more detail and answer any concerns that you might have about ARO or your treatment.

Planning

During the days following your orientation and treatment planning appointment our team of experts (physicists, radiation therapist planners and your radiation oncologist) work together to develop the ideal treatment plan for you. This involves a highly sophisticated planning software system and review process to guarantee safe and effective delivery of treatment. Depending on the site and complexity of the treatment, this stage can take up to two weeks.

First Day of Treatment

You’ll need to arrive 10-15 minutes before your allocated treatment time so that we can greet you and to give you time to get changed for your treatment.

If you are driving, we recommend you enter Gate 3, 98 Mountain Road and drive up the ramp to the mid level car park. Please walk across the link bridge to Auckland Radiation Oncology (ARO). Please report to the ARO reception desk. See location and parking for more information.

During Treatment

Weekly reviews with your radiation oncologist or one of our patient care team will be conducted to monitor any side effects and provide on-going support and advice as required.

Last Week of Treatment

An appointment will be scheduled for you to meet with a member of our patient care team to ensure appropriate care is organised after your last treatment visit. This may include regular monitoring of blood results, appointments for dressings and management of side effects.

Following Treatment