Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Definition: Pancreatic & Liver Cancers

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer begins when a tumor forms in the pancreas. The pancreas is an elongated organ, about six inches in length, which lies behind the abdomen and is surrounded by the liver and the intestines. Pancreatic cancer is often called the “silent disease” because the pancreas is hidden behind other organs, and frequently the disease does not present symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms, such as jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin), unexplained weight loss, and abdominal pain typically appear when the disease is at an advanced stage. The most common pancreatic cancer, called adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, occurs in the lining of the pancreas.

Risk Factors

We do not know the exact cause of pancreatic cancer; however, we know certain factors can increase a person’s risk for developing the disease. These risk factors include:

  • Age 60 or older
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of pancreatic, colon, or ovarian cancer
  • Chronic pancreatitis, a painful condition of the pancreas
  • Blacks are most vulnerable to pancreatic cancer as compared to other racial and ethnic groups

These factors do not necessarily cause pancreatic cancer; however, they increase a person’s risk for developing the disease. Changing risk factors that can be controlled, such as smoking, may help lower a person’s risk for pancreatic cancer.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer begins when a tumor forms in the liver, the body’s largest internal organ located under the ribs and below the right lung. The liver is made up of several types of cells, making it easy for malignant (cancerous) and benign (non cancerous) tumors to form in the liver. These tumors have different causes, are treated differently, and have a different prognosis.

What Are the Different Types of Liver Cancers?

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common liver cancer. It is also called hepatoma. About three in four liver cancers are of this type. This type of cancer starts in the main liver cells, called hepatocytes. About 10 to 20 percent of all liver cancers are cholangiocarcinomas. These types of cancers start in the bile ducts. Angiosarcoma is a rare cancer that begins in blood vessels inside the liver. Hepatoblastoma is a rare liver cancer usually found in children.

Risk Factors

We do not know the exact cause of liver cancer; however, we know certain factors can increase a person’s risk for developing the disease. These risk factors include:

  • Chronic liver infection
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Drinking alcohol in excess

Having several other diseases have been linked to liver cancer. These include:

  • Tyrosinemia
  • Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Glycogen storage diseases
  • Diabetes and obesity