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Pancreatic cancer


What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in any part of the pancreas. About 70% of pancreatic cancers are found in the head of the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes and to the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) or may travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the bodyas secondary or metastatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer arising from cells which produce enzymes to break down food is the more common type of pancreatic cancer and is known as an exocrine tumour. Tumours developing from the cells which secrete hormones are known as neuroendocrine tumours.

You can access further information about pancreatic cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is pancreatic cancer?

In 2020, 970 Victorians were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of these, there were 498 males and 472 females, representing 51.3% and 48.7% of the total Victorian pancreatic cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 8 per 100,000 males and 6.4 per 100,000 females. The median age at diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is 71 years in males and 75 in females (Figure 1 & 2). Accounting for 2.8% of all cancers diagnosed and 7% of all cancer-related deaths in 2020, pancreatic cancer was the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 4th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria.


Figure 1: Distribution of pancreatic cancer incidence in 2020, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Figure 2: Distribution of pancreatic cancer incidence in 2020, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2020, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Pancreatic cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused pancreatic cancer among all cases. Most pancreatic cancer tumours, 59.9%, present as Adenocarcinoma tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of pancreatic cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Pancreatic cancer subtypes

Figure 5 provides a breakdown of pancreatic cancer by subsite location in 2020. Most (41.2%) are found in the Head of the pancreas.


Figure 5: Distribution of pancreatic cancer subsites in 2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Geographical variance in pancreatic cancer by local government area

Figure 6 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of pancreatic cancer, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of pancreatic cancer.


Figure 6: Variation in the incidence of pancreatic cancer for the period 2016-2020, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Pancreatic cancer in people born overseas

Figure 7 shows the age standardised incidence rates of pancreatic cancer in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups, over the five-year period 2016 to 2020. The highest age standardised incidence rate for pancreatic cancer was 9.1 for males born in the Middle East and North Africa region and the lowest rate of 4 was observed in males born in the Southern and Central Asia region. The highest age standardised incidence rate of pancreatic cancer was 7.7 for females born in the Africa region and the lowest rate of 2.9 was observed in females born in the Southern and Central Asia region.


Figure 7: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for pancreatic cancer in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2016-2020, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)



Pancreatic cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 8 shows the change in 5-year survival for pancreatic cancer, and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for pancreatic cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 5% to 13%.

Figure 8: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1985-1989 to 2015-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

This webpage was last updated in May 2022