Supporting the

Neuroendocrine Cancer Community

Pancreatic Cancer (PDAC) v Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer (PNEN)

Jun 17, 2021

Pancreatic Cancer (PDAC) v Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer (PNEN)

“The difference isn’t pedantic it’s potentially life-changing”.

A common issue in raising awareness of Neuroendocrine Cancer across the media and, indeed, in cancer data reporting itself, is that the primary focus is always on the site of cancer – and not the type.

High profile celebrities, including Aretha Franklin and Steve Jobs, had pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer: 

Ms Franklin’s doctor confirming : “advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type

Others are living with it.

In all cases, their cancer has been referred to in the media as “pancreatic cancer” -because it is cancer and it is in the pancreas. So why is this misleading and potentially harmful?

It is misleading because although Pancreatic Cancer and Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancers occur in the same organ, these are two different types of cancers. 

It can be harmful – and does a huge disservice to those diagnosed with either of these cancers – to group them together. 

It can reduce accurate awareness and information sharing – increasing confusion, reducing help – falsely raising hope for some.

Advocates for improvements in both Pancreatic Cancer (PDAC) v Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer (PNEN) early diagnoses and effective treatments stress the importance of accurate information to improve education, awareness, care and research: 

“There is vital importance in referring to the cancer type, not site – the difference isn’t pedantic it’s potentially life-changing.”

Pancreatic cancer as a general term usually refers to pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDACs), an aggressive malignant cancer that starts in the exocrine cells, where enzymes that help to digest food are made. It has a poor prognosis / chance of recovery – especially if incurable. 

Neuroendocrine cancers of the pancreas (PNENs) start in specialised endocrine (neuroendocrine) cells within the pancreas. These cells are responsible for producing gut hormones (for example insulin), that work to control normal functions of the body – such as keeping blood sugar levels stable. PNENs have a spectrum of growth rates ranging from indolent (Grade 1) to aggressive (Grade 3). Grade 1-2 have a better prognosis than Grade 3 (which can mimic PDAC), even when incurable.

PDACs and PNENS have different causes, signs / symptoms, tests, treatments and outcomes.

These factors are substantially different – Life-alteringly so.

For further information on Neuroendocrine Cancer of the Pancreas – visit NCUK 

For further info on Pancreatic Cancer – visit PCUK