Étude québécoise sur le cancer du pancréas 
Québec Pancreas Cancer Study
What is the pancreas?
 
The pancreas is a flattened gland shaped like a fish that is located deep in abdomen between the stomach and spine. Since the pancreas lies deep in the abdomen, tumours of the pancreas are not easily felt by pressing on the abdomen during a physical examination. In addition, due to the pancreas’ deep position in the abdomen, tumours of the pancreas do not generally cause symptoms until they grow sufficiently large to affect the surrounding organs.

The pancreas plays a role in digesting food (exocrine function) and controlling sugar levels in the bloodstream (endocrine function). The exocrine and endocrine functions of the pancreas are controlled by different cell types.
 
The acinar cells of the pancreas produce digestive enzymes that are secreted into the pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct carries these enzymes toward the first part of the small bowel (called the duodenum) where these digestive enzymes (along with bile from the liver) help digest food that has already passed through the stomach. The islets of Langerhans are endocrine cells of the pancreas that produce hormones, like insulin and glucagon, which are secreted into the blood stream. These hormones are important in regulating the level of sugars (glucose) in the blood.
 
 
 
What is pancreas cancer?
 
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there will be approximately 1200 new diagnoses of pancreas cancer in Québec this year. The number of deaths due to pancreas cancer is expected to equal the number of new cases of pancreas cancer, making this disease one of the most deadly cancers in our society.

Tumours can arise from both exocrine and endocrine cell types. Pancreatic adenocarcinomas account for the vast majority of pancreatic tumours and arise from the exocrine cell types, while neuroendocrine tumours are rare and arise from the endocrine cell types. The distinction between pancreatic adenocarcinoma and neuroendocrine tumours of the pancreas is important because the two diseases have different treatments and outcomes.

The terms “pancreas cancer” or “pancreatic cancer” are often used, and will be used on this web site, to refer to pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which is a cancer that arises from the exocrine cell types of the pancreas. These exocrine cell types include the ductal epithelial cells that line the pancreatic duct. Ductal epithelial cells can undergo cancerous transformation and give rise to the most common subtype of pancreas cancer, known as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
 
The Québec Pancreas Cancer Study is currently dedicated to the study of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Thus, the focus of this website is pancreatic adenocarcinoma. If you would like information about neuroendocrine tumours of the pancreas, please contact us using the contact links on this web site. Our hepato-pancreato-biliary surgical and medical oncology services at the McGill University Health Centre treat all tumours of the pancreas, biliary system and liver.
 
 
 
What are the risk factors for pancreas cancer?
 
Like many cancers, pancreas cancer affects older individuals. New cases of pancreas cancer are most often diagnosed following the sixth decade of life. Research has consistently shown that there is an increased risk of pancreas cancer associated with smoking.  Our western diet and lifestyle has also been implicated as a risk factor for pancreas cancer.  Further research is needed to better understand the risks associated with pancreas cancer and our study is designed to help answer these important research questions.

Individuals participating in our study will be asked to complete a questionnaire that asks about various types of risk factors. Yes, this is a long questionnaire, but the purpose of it is to understand the various types of risk factors that are important for this cancer in Québec. Some of these risk factors are potentially modifiable and improved understanding of these modifiable risk factors will help us develop risk reduction programs.