Frequently Used Terms

It is important that patients and their friends and families fully understand the details of the disease. This page explains some of the medical terms used by doctors in treating pancreatic cancer.


The part of the body from the chest to the hips which houses the liver, intestines, bladder and kidneys.


A cancer in the cells lining the walls of many different organs of the body.


Cancers need blood vessels grow. This is the name of that process.

Benign Tumour:

A tumour which is not cancerous. Benign tumours generally remain in one part of the body and do not spread. They respond well to treatment.


This fluid helps digest fats. It is made in the liver and its passage to the rest of the body can be obstructed by pancreatic cancer.


Chemicals that cause cancer. Smokers are exposed to dangerous carcinogens.


The human body is made up of millions of cells all of which have a specific function. Cells which grow abnormally can form tumours.

CT scan:

Type of x-ray which creates a three dimensional picture of the organs, or tumours in the abdomen.

Endocrine Tumours:

Effects the endocrine pancreas, which secretes insulin.


A dye is injected into the pancreas or bile duct via a thin tube passed down the throat. This provides better visibility of the organs on x-ray photographs. Procedure is conducted under a local anaesthetic.


These help digest food and are created by the pancreas.

Fine needle biopsy:

The needle is inserted into the abdomen to take a tissue sample for analysis. Conducted under general or local anaesthetic.


An organ, or group of cells that create various types of fluid, such as saliva, sweat or hormones.


These exist in every cell and control the way they behave. There are thousands of genes and we inherit them from our parents. A damaged gene can instruct cells to grow into tumours.


The pancreas creates insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. Diabetes is the result of inadequate insulin.


Inserted under general anaesthetic. The laparoscope examines the state of the abdomen from within the body.

Lymph Nodes:

Small structures located mainly in the neck, armpit and groin. They filter the lymph to prevent bacteria entering the bloodstream.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

Creates pictures of organs in the abdomen, such as the pancreas by magnetism.

Malignant Tumour:

A tumour that resists treatment, can spread to other parts of the body and can re-occur after it is removed. A malignant tumour is a cancer.

Metastatic cancer:

One that develops elsewhere in the body and then spreads to the pancreas


A new abnormal tissue growth that grows more quickly than other cells and will keep growing unless treated and compete with normal cells for nutrients. Neoplasm is a synonym for tumour and applies to benign and malignant growths.


A unit of the body with a specific task, such as the lungs, heart, liver or kidneys. The pancreas is an organ.

Palliative care:

If the cancer can not be cured palliative strategies reduce the pain it would otherwise cause.

Primary cancer:

One that develops in the pancreas


Uses radio waves to kill the cancer cells. Used after surgery to destroy any remaining cells or in cases where surgery is not possible. If the cancer is advanced it can be used to contain pain rather than cure the disease. It can also be used in combination with chemotherapy.


Doctors use a four stage system to chart the course of pancreatic cancer. It is called the 'TNM system' (T = tumour, N = nodes, M = metastases) with each element numbered according to the progress of the cancer.


A collection of cells in a specific part of the body.


A new growth of tissue in or on the body. Tumours are either benign (harmless) or cancerous (malignant).


Works like radar. Records the echoes of sound waves into your body when the signal finds dense objects such as an organ or a tumour.


Cameras that use radiation to see into things that light cannot penetrate. This means they can see into the body and show cancers.

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