Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors
The factors which could put you at risk for developing pancreatic cancer include:
- Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Inherited conditions (including hereditary pancreatitis)
- Familial pancreatic cancer syndromes
- Long-standing diabetes
How Is Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosed?
After taking down your health history and performing a physical exam, the doctor may order several tests to determine the cause of your problem or extent of the condition, including:
- CT scan (computed tomography)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
- Laparoscopy (surgical procedure to look at organs)
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC; procedure used to X-ray liver and bile ducts)
- Biopsy (removal of tissue to view it under a microscope)
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment
There are various treatments for pancreatic cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat cancer, while radiation therapy uses X-rays or other kinds of radiation to kill cancer cells. Surgery can be used to remove a tumor or to treat symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
What Is the Outlook for Pancreatic Cancer?
The American Cancer Society reports that only about 23% of patients with cancer of the exocrine pancreas are still living one year after diagnosis. Only about 4% are still living five years after being diagnosed.