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Common diseases of the pancreas

Acute pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is inflammation and damage to the pancreas. The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is blockage of the pancreatic duct by a gallstone, accounting for 35-40% of cases. Secretions can back up in the pancreas and cause permanent damage in just a few hours. They also can circulate to other body organs, causing shock and organ failure.

Excessive alcohol is also an important cause of acute pancreatitis, causing around 30% of cases.

Acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening.


Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis, associated most often with gall bladder disease and alcoholism, can cause painful attacks over a number of years and lead to other problems, such as pancreatic insufficiency, bacterial infections, and type 2 diabetes.



Type 1 diabetes involves destruction of pancreatic beta cells (which produce insulin) and a dependence on insulin; type 2 involves loss of some beta cell function and insulin resistance. Diabetes affects many other body organs, especially the kidneys.


Cystic fibrosis

CF is an inherited genetic disorder that disrupts chloride transport at the cellular level. This causes mucous plugs that block pancreatic enzymes from reaching the intestines and leads to digestive problems.


Pancreatic cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is diagnosed in about 2,000 people a year in Australia. Risks include smoking, age, gender (more common in men), chronic pancreatitis, and exposure to some industrial chemicals. Most (95%) pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas, developing in the exocrine tissues. Pancreatic cancer is very difficult to detect in the early stages because symptoms are either absent or non-specific: abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite and sometimes jaundice. Only about 10% of the cancers are still contained within the pancreas at the time of diagnosis.

Last Review Date: November 6, 2017