The biology of pancreatic cancer morphology

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most lethal of all human malignancies. PDAC precursor lesions, invasive primary PDAC, and metastatic PDAC each display distinct morphologies that reflect unique biology. This ‘biomorphology’ is determined by a complex neoplastic history of clonal phylogenetic relationships, geographic locations, external environmental exposures, intrinsic metabolic demands, and tissue migration patterns. Understanding the biomorphological evolution of PDAC progression is not only of academic interest but also of great practical value. Applying this knowledge to surgical pathology practice facilitates the correct diagnosis on routine H&E stains without additional ancillary studies in most cases. Here I provide a concise overview of the entire biomorphological spectrum of PDAC progression beginning with initial neoplastic transformation and ending in terminal distant metastasis. Most biopsy and resection specimens are currently obtained prior to treatment. As such, our understanding of untreated PDAC biomorphology is mature. The biomorphology of treated PDAC is less defined but will assume greater importance as the frequency of neoadjuvant therapy increases. Although this overview is slanted towards pathology, it is written so that pathologists, clinicians, and scientists alike might find it instructive for their respective disciplines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • biology
  • morphology
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
  • pathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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