A pancreatic mass is a lump on your pancreas that can be cancerous or noncancerous. Pancreatic cancer makes up about 3% of cancers in the United States but disproportionally makes up 7% of cancer deaths.

Your pancreas is about 6 inches long and shaped like a thin pear. The wide end is called the head. The tapering part in the middle is called the body, and the end is called the tail.

About 15% of all pancreatic cancers develop in the tail. These cancers tend to be more advanced at the time of diagnosis than cancers at the head of the pancreas. As with other pancreatic cancers, surgery is considered the only realistic cure.

Learn how to diagnose and treat Pancreatic masses in the tail of the pancreas.

Illustration showing a tumor in the tail of the pancreas
Anatomy of the pancreas showing a mass (tumor) in the tail. Illustration by Jason Hoffman

A Pancreatic mass is a type of cancer. There are tumors that can be noncancerous.

Roughly 90% of pancreatic cancers are ductal adenocarcinoma. This type of cancer develops in the ducts of your pancreas. These ducts deliver enzymes to your small intestines to help with digestion.

Ductal adenocarcinoma of the pancreas is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by the year 2030.

About two-thirds of ductal adenocarcinomas develop in the head of the pancreas with the remainder developing in the body or tail.

Is a tumor in the tail of the pancreas always cancerous?

“benign tumors are not cancer tumors and don’t invade surrounding tissues. They still need a doctor’s opinion on whether or not there is cancer.”

Some tumors can become cancer and need to be monitored.

If the tumors are causing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or pain, they may need to be removed.

“Pancreatic cancer in the tail is not diagnosed until the cancer has spread far enough for removal. Symptoms of early stage Pancreatic Cancer are usually general and don’t cause any symptoms.”

Here’s a look at the most common initial symptoms of pancreatic cancer in the head compared with the tail:

Head of pancreas Tail of pancreas
weight loss abdominal pain
jaundice back pain
nausea and vomiting weight loss
pale stools
abdominal pain
dark urine

Example of early symptoms for pancreatic cancer in the tail

In a 2019 case study, researchers describe a 56-year man who had dull left back pain that came and went for 2 or 3 years.

He had no other symptoms except for a bout of abdominal pain and vomiting that required him to go to the hospital.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 62,210 people will develop pancreatic cancer in 2022. Only about 15%, or roughly 9,330 cases, are expected to occur in the pancreatic tail.

“Researchers don’t know why cancer develops, but they have identified some risk factors.”

The first step to getting a pancreatic cancer diagnosis usually starts by visiting a doctor. They’ll perform a physical exam and consider your family and medical history.

If they suspect pancreatic cancer, they’ll order other tests or refer you to a specialist called a gastroenterologist.

Markers that suggest cancer can be identified with blood tests. The tests can help identify tumors. A variety of tests are used to diagnose cancer.

In most cases, a small tissue sample collected through a procedure called a biopsy is needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Five types of standard treatment are used to treat pancreatic cancer:


The only cure for Pancreatic Cancer is surgical removal. Most Pancreatic cancers have progressed far enough for surgery after diagnosis.

In a 2020 study, researchers found that among 2,483 people, only 18.2% of tumors in the body or tail of the pancreas were considered surgically removable. In contrast, 36.6% of cancers in the head of the pancreas were considered surgically removeable.

Pancreatic cancers that are eligible for surgery are typically removed with a procedure called a distal pancreatectomy with a splenectomy.

A pancreatectomy removes the body of your pancreas while keeping the head. A splenectomy is the removal of your spleen.

Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy is done.

Surgery is often followed by The treatment is called Chemo. or Radiation therapy is done. to destroy cancer cells that may have been left behind. These treatments are sometimes used before surgery to shrink the tumor.

In a 2022 study, researchers found that people with pancreatic cancer in the tail receive The treatment is called Chemo. about 15% less often than people with pancreatic head tumors.

They also receive neoadjuvant The treatment is called Chemo. (The treatment is called Chemo. given before surgery) about 58% less often than people with pancreatic head tumors.

Treating late stage pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer that has spread to distant parts of your body is not a cure. Treatment aims to improve quality of life.

  • The treatment is called Chemo. with or without Targeted therapy.
  • clinical trials of new anticancer drugs with or without The treatment is called Chemo.
  • Treatments to help manage your symptoms.

Your outlook depends on factors such as:

  • How far has your cancer spread?
  • Your overall health.
  • Your age.
  • The type of cancer.

People with tumors that arise in the pancreatic tail or body tend to have a poorer outlook than people with tumors in the pancreatic head. This is because tumors in the pancreatic tail are often diagnosed at a later stage. They’re also more likely to:

  • Be large.
  • spread to other body parts.
  • spread to major blood vessels called your hepatic and celiac arteries
  • Not be done in a surgery.

Despite having a poorer outlook overall, people with pancreatic cancer in the tail may have a better outlook than those with other pancreatic cancers when the cancer is considered surgically removable. Surgery to remove cancer from the tail tends to be easier and has a lower risk of adverse outcomes.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that people with stage 1A pancreatic head cancer had a worse outlook than people with stage 1A tumors in the tail and body.

The head of the pancreas is more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the tail of your pancreas.

The outlook for people with this type of cancer is generally poorer, but research suggests that the outlook may be better if the cancer is caught early enough for surgery.

A doctor can help recommend the best treatment for your cancer and give you an idea of what to expect. Factors such as Your overall health., age, and the extent of your cancer play a role in determining your outlook.