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An estimated 48,960 new cases of pancreatic cancer are expected to occur in the US in 2015. Most (96%) will be can­cers of the exocrine pancreas, which produces enzymes to digest food. Endocrine carcinomas (4%) are more rare, have a better prognosis, and are often diagnosed at a younger age. From 2007 to 2011, overall pancreatic cancer incidence rates were stable after slowly increasing for most of the past decade.

Treatment: Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are treatment options that may extend survival and/or relieve symptoms in many patients, but seldom produce a cure. Less than 20% of patients are candidates for surgery because pancre­atic cancer is usually detected after it has spread beyond the pancreas. Even among those patients who were thought to be surgical candidates, the cancer has often spread too extensively to be removed. For those who do undergo surgery, adjuvant treatment with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine lengthens survival. For advanced disease, chemotherapy is often offered and may lengthen survival. The targeted anticancer drug erlo­tinib (Tarceva®) has demonstrated a slight improvement in advanced pancreatic cancer survival when used in combination with gemcitabine. Clinical trials with several new agents, com­bined with radiation and surgery, may offer improved survival.