Pancreatic Cancer

What is Cancer of the Pancreas?

The pancreas is a gland located deep in the abdomen between the stomach and the spine. It is about 6 inches long and is shaped like a flat pear. The pancreas makes insulin and other hormones that enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. They help the body use or store energy that comes from food. The pancreas also makes pancreatic juices – fluids that contain enzymes that help digest food. The pancreas releases the juices into a system of ducts leading to the common bile duct. The common bile duct empties into the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine.

Cancer occurs due to abnormal cell growth within the pancreas.

Types of Pancreatic Cancer

Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry the pancreatic juices. This type of cancer will be discussed here. Another type of pancreatic cancer is called islet cell cancer. This is a very rare form of cancer, and it begins in the cells that produce insulin and other hormones. If you are diagnosed with this type of cancer, please consult your doctor to find more information.

Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer

No one knows the exact cause of pancreatic cancer, or why one person may develop this and another may not. Below are some of the most common risk factors in people who develop pancreatic cancer:

  • Age. Risk increases with age, with most cases occurring in people over age 60.
  • Smoking. Cigarette smokers are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than are nonsmokers.
  • Diabetes. Risk is higher in diabetes patients.
  • Being male. Occurs more often in men than in women.
  • Race. African-Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics, or whites to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history. The risk for developing pancreatic cancer triples if a person’s mother, father, sister or brother had the disease. A family history of colon or ovarian cancer also increases this risk.
  • Chronic pancreatitis. People who suffer from this ailment may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Common Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Early pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms. As cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen or upper back
  • Yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine from jaundice
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss

These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious conditions. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor so that they can be treated as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer

After performing a physical exam and reviewing your medical history, your doctor may prescribe any of the following tests to find the cause of your symptoms:

Treatment Options for Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is very hard to control with current treatments. For that reason, many doctors encourage patients with this disease to consider taking part in a clinical trial. When choosing a treatment, your doctor will consider the stage of the disease, as well as your age and general health.

Other options include:

Information about…Our services
SurgerySurgical Oncology
Radiation TherapyRadiation Oncology
ChemotherapyHematology Oncology

Find out about our clinical trials for:

Pancreatic Cancer

National cancer clinical trials

Our Specialists

Alok Khorana, M.D.

Michelle Shayne, M.D.

Radiation Oncologist

Alan Katz, M.D.

Surgical Oncologists

David Krusch, M.D.

James Peacock, M.D.

Rabih Salloum, M.D.

Luke Schoeniger, M.D., Ph.D.

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