Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is by far the most common subtype of pancreatic cancer, but there are many other subtypes.

Your pancreas is an organ behind your stomach that helps with digestion and hormone regulation. Pancreatic cancer represents about 3.3% of all new cancer cases in the United States.

Let’s take a closer look at the different types and subtypes of pancreatic cancer.

There are two main types of pancreatic cancer.

Your pancreas has two primary functions performed by the exocrine and neuroendocrine cells. The exocrine cells help with digestion, while the neuroendocrine cells make hormones like insulin.

Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer affects your neuroendocrine cells, and exocrine pancreatic cancer affects your exocrine cells. There are many subtypes.

Even though these two types of cancer begin in the cells of your pancreas, they have different causes, treatments, and outlooks. So, it’s important to understand each type, which will help in accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Let’s go over each type and its subtypes.

Cancers beginning in the pancreatic exocrine cells account for more than 90% of all pancreatic cancers. There are many subtypes of exocrine pancreatic cancer, but many of them are relatively uncommon.

Adenocarcinoma pancreatic cancer

Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that begins in the epithelial cells. Many parts of your body have epithelial cells, such as your lungs or stomach.

Adenocarcinoma pancreatic cancer (also called pancreatic adenocarcinoma) is the most common form of pancreatic cancer. Adenocarcinomas account for 95% of all exocrine pancreatic cancers.

This type of cancer usually starts in the pancreatic ducts, where enzymes made in your pancreas reach your intestines. There are rarely any early symptoms.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cells are present in many parts of your body. They can cause cancer in your skin, lungs, esophagus, and other organs.

Squamous carcinoma of the pancreas (SCCP) is rare because your pancreas is not one of the places where squamous cells are typically present. SCCP only accounts for 0.5–5% of all exocrine pancreatic cancers.

Adenosquamous carcinoma

Pancreatic adenosquamous carcinoma is a type of pancreatic cancer that involves both epithelial and squamous cells. Since it is unusual to find squamous cells in your pancreas, it is a rare form of pancreatic cancer. This type of carcinoma makes up only 0.5–4% of pancreatic cancers.

Colloid carcinoma

Another rare subtype of pancreatic cancer is colloid carcinoma. This type of cancer grows in large pools of mucin called mucin lakes. Mucin is a gel-like substance produced by epithelial cells.

Colloid carcinoma accounts for 1% of all pancreatic cancer cases, and it’s generally associated with a better outlook than other types of pancreatic cancer.

Signet ring cell carcinoma

Signet ring cell carcinoma (SRCC) is a type of cancer characterized by its’ unusually shaped cells. Affected cells have large expanding sacs of mucin that push the nucleus to one side, making the cell appear similar to a signet ring under a microscope.

Most of the time, SRCC begins in the stomach, though it can start in other places, including your pancreas. Pancreatic SRCC accounts for less than 1% of pancreatic cancers.

Acinar cell carcinoma

This type of pancreatic cancer begins in acinar cells, which are a type of exocrine cell. It accounts for only 1–2% of pancreatic cancers and has no standard treatment. It is associated with better long-term survival than pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Undifferentiated carcinoma

Undifferentiated carcinoma is a very rare type of pancreatic cancer. It’s an umbrella term for many other subtypes, including:

  • anaplastic carcinoma
  • pleomorphic carcinoma
  • pleomorphic large cell carcinoma
  • pleomorphic giant cell carcinoma
  • spindle cell carcinoma
  • sarcomatoid carcinoma
  • carcinosarcoma

Despite these many names, undifferentiated carcinoma of the pancreas has a separate diagnosis from undifferentiated carcinoma with osteoclast-like giant cells, another rare form of pancreatic cancer.

The other main type of pancreatic cancer is neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer. This type does not have subtypes but has grades from 1–3. Higher grades have cells that multiply faster and look more unusual.

This type only accounts for about 7% of all pancreatic cancers, but it tends to grow more slowly and have better outcomes.

Often, pancreatic cancer doesn’t have any symptoms until they reach later stages, making it difficult to diagnose early.

If a doctor suspects you might have pancreatic cancer, you will need to do some tests to find out. Diagnostic tests might include:

While the exact methods and medications used to treat pancreatic cancer can differ by type, the general options remain the same. One treatment may be better suited for some types of pancreatic cancer than others. Treatments for pancreatic cancer can include:

You might still be looking to learn more about the types of pancreatic cancer. Let’s briefly answer some common questions.

How many types of pancreatic cancer are there?

There are two main types of pancreatic cancer: exocrine and neuroendocrine. Exocrine cancer has its own subtypes, while neuroendocrine is separated by how quickly it grows.

Is there a type of pancreatic cancer that is curable?

Both exocrine and neuroendocrine pancreatic cancers are curable. However, this often relies on an early diagnosis, which is uncommon.

Which type of pancreatic cancer has the best outlook?

Of the two main types, neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer generally has the best outlook, though this can vary greatly from person to person.

What is the most aggressive type of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is both the most common and the most aggressive type of pancreatic cancer.

Exocrine and neuroendocrine are the two main types of pancreatic cancer. Exocrine is far more common, and the most common subtype is pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

The different types and subtypes can have different treatment methods. After diagnosing pancreatic cancer, your doctor needs to determine what type and subtype of pancreatic cancer you have and then plan your treatment accordingly.