Pancreatic cancer

Other names: Cancer, pancreatic


Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.

Pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed early. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it's a leading cause of Cancer death. Signs and symptoms may not appear until Pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and complete surgical removal isn't possible.


Signs and symptoms of Pancreatic cancer often don't occur until the disease is advanced. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you experience unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, jaundice, or other signs and symptoms that bother you.


It's not clear what causes Pancreatic cancer.

Understanding your pancreas

Your pancreas is about 6 inches long and looks like a pear lying on its side. The pancreas secretes hormones, including insulin, to help your body process sugar in the foods you eat. And it produces digestive juices to help your body digest food.

How Pancreatic cancer forms

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in your pancreas develop mutations in their DNA. These mutations cause cells to grow uncontrollably and to continue living after normal cells would die. These accumulating cells can form a Tumor.

Most Pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas. This type of Cancer is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma or pancreatic exocrine Cancer.

Rarely, Cancer can form in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas. This type of Cancer is called Islet cell cancer or pancreatic endocrine Cancer.


Factors that may increase your risk of Pancreatic cancer include:


As Pancreatic cancer progresses, it can cause complications such as:


Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Your doctor may recommend tests and procedures to investigate your signs and symptoms. If your doctor determines you have Pancreatic cancer, you may be referred to:

A doctor who treats Cancer (oncologist) A doctor who uses radiation to treat Cancer (radiation oncologist) A surgeon who specializes in operations involving the digestive tract A doctor who diagnoses and treats digestive conditions (gastroenterologist)

What you can do

Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. Write down any symptoms you're experiencing. Write down key personal information. Make a list of all medications. Consider taking a family member or friend along. Write down questions to ask your doctor.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time to cover other points you want to address.


Diagnosing Pancreatic cancer

If your doctor suspects Pancreatic cancer, you may have one or more tests to diagnose the Cancer:

Imaging tests Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) Biopsy

Staging Pancreatic cancer

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, staging tests are done to determine the extent (stage) of the Cancer.


Treatment for Pancreatic cancer depends on various factors including stage, location, age, health status, and preferences.

Surgery Radiation therapy Chemotherapy Targeted therapy Clinical trials


Although there's no proven way to prevent Pancreatic cancer, lifestyle changes can reduce risk factors:

Stop smoking. Maintain a healthy weight. Choose a healthy diet.


No complementary or alternative treatments have been found effective for treating Pancreatic cancer. However, they may help with symptoms due to Cancer or treatments.


Learning about your condition, building a support system, talking with others, considering hospice care are all important aspects when dealing with a life-threatening illness like Pancreatic cancer.


  1. What are some common symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Upper abdominal pain, jaundice, loss of appetite, weight loss

  1. What are some risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer?

African-American race, excess body weight, smoking

  1. How does pancreatic cancer form?

It occurs when cells in the pancreas develop mutations in their DNA causing uncontrollable growth.

  1. What are some complications associated with advanced pancreatic cancer?

Jaundice, pain, bowel obstruction, weight loss

  1. What are some options for treating pancreatic cancer?

Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy

  1. How can one prepare for a medical appointment regarding suspected pancreatic cancer?

By being aware of symptoms experienced and writing down questions for the doctor

  1. What are some diagnostic tests used for pancreatic cancer?

Imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs; endoscopic ultrasound; biopsy

  1. How is staging done for pancreatic cancer?

Through imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs; blood tests for specific proteins shed by Cancer cells

  1. What lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer?

Stop smoking; maintain a healthy weight; choose a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables

  1. Are there effective alternative treatments for treating pancreatic cancer?

No complementary or alternative treatments have been found effective; however they may help manage symptoms caused by Cancer or its treatment