Pancreatic Cancer

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is positioned behind the lower portion of the stomach, and it plays a major role in the regulation of blood sugar levels and digestion.

Those with chronic diabetes, smokers, those with specific genetic disorders, people over 40, men, and African Americans are at greatest risk for developing Pancreatic Cancer. It is one of the most common forms of cancer, and it is also one of the deadliest.

What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

What makes pancreatic cancer deadlier than other types of cancer is the lack of symptoms in the earliest stages. The initial warning signs could indicate another disease or medical condition. Because some of the symptoms seem minor they are often ignored.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include:
  • Pain in the upper abdominal region that might radiate to the back
  • Jaundice (yellow-tinged eyes and skin)
  • Appetite loss
  • Melancholy
  • Blood clotting

Diagnosis is confirmed through various imaging methods and tissue biopsy.

Pancreatic Cancer Causes

Pancreatic cancer is a virulent cancer with a low rate of survival. While no single cause of this cancer has been determined, doctors have identified several factors that contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer.

There is most certainly a genetic link in pancreatic cancer development. Often, several members of the same family will be affected by this cancer down through many generations. The genetic syndromes BRCA2 mutation, lynch syndrome and atypical mole-malignant melanoma syndrome are all associated with a high rate of pancreatic cancer occurrence.

People with a history of pancreatitis often develop pancreatic cancer. The inflammatory process that is part of this disease may lead to abnormal cell growth. Also, those with a history of long-term diabetes are at high risk of pancreatic cancer.

There is another health condition that doctors are becoming more and more convinced may cause pancreatic cancer. H-pylori is a type of bacteria known to cause gastric ulcers. Now, researchers think there is a link with this bacterium and pancreatic cancer.

Lifestyle choices also play a role in pancreatic cancer prevention. Those who smoke and those who drink alcohol excessively are known to have a high incidence of this cancer. Those who are significantly overweight are also at risk.

How is Pancreatic Cancer Treated?

After confirming the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, staging is determined through blood tests, laparoscopic imaging and an MRI or CT scan. Stage establishment helps the doctor to determine the best course of action to eliminate and stop the cancer from spreading.

Treatment may include:
  • Resection surgery

Surgical removal of the pancreatic head, part of the duodenum and bile duct, and portions of the stomach and the gallbladder (Whipple procedure), or surgical removal of the pancreatic tail, part of the pancreatic body and possibly the spleen (distal pancreatectomy).

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy treatments
  • Targeted cancer cell therapy
  • Clinical trials

By the time that pancreatic cancer is usually discovered, it is often too late for treatments to prove effective. At that point the goal is to provide emotional support and symptom relief. However, prognosis depends on the type of tumor, location and the cancer stage. Survival rates are mere estimates, and everyone reacts differently to treatment.

Some people choose not to learn the average survival rates, and others want to find out. With that said, it is not possible to know exactly how long someone with pancreatic cancer or any other type of cancer will survive. Even those with stage IV pancreatic cancer have options for continued treatment. Countless people survive past five years, and medical advancements are being made all of the time.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

Not all of the possible causes of pancreatic cancer are preventable. However, several of the possible causes are completely preventable.

Those who have diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels under strict control. Uncontrolled diabetes is a major cause of pancreatic cancer.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for pancreatic cancer prevention. Never smoke and quit smoking if you’ve already started. Limit the amount of alcohol consumed each day. Also, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Many cancer researchers believe that it is important to maintain a body mass index of less than 30 in order to help prevent cancer of the pancreas.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
April 03, 2019