What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a long, flat organ located behind the stomach. It produces digestive enzymes and a variety of hormones. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma, or cancer of the gland-forming cells in the pancreas. In the United States, approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year (Source: NCI).

The specific cause of pancreatic cancer is not known, but some risk factors for its development have been identified. Risk factors include smoking, diabetes, obesity, and chronic pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas).

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), upper abdominal or back pain, digestive problems, and unintended weight loss. Early pancreatic cancer may occur without symptoms, and pancreatic cancer is often at an advanced stage when it is discovered.

Depending on the individual situation and extent of spread of the cancer, treatments for pancreatic cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy as well as newer or experimental therapies.

Pancreatic cancer can increase the risk of blood clots developing in the legs or other areas of the body. Fragments of these clots can travel through the veins to the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties. Also, rare types of pancreatic cancers can cause bleeding in the stomach or dangerously low blood sugar levels. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have difficulty breathing, chest pain, pale or blue lips, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), severe sweating, confusion, or loss or change in level of consciousness.

Seek prompt medical care if you experience unexpected weight loss, night sweats, jaundice, upper abdominal or back pain, persistent digestive problems, or other issues that concern you.


What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can result from decreased digestive enzyme production, compression of nearby tissues and organs, and spread of the disease. In very early stages, pancreatic cancer may produce no symptoms or only mild symptoms.

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:


What causes pancreatic cancer?

Cancer occurs when a cell becomes abnormal and control over its growth is lost. What causes pancreatic cancer is not known, although some risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer have been identified.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Not all people with risk factors will get panc... Read more about pancreatic cancercauses


How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Goal of cancer treatment

The goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur or relapse later.

Common treatments for pancreatic cancer

A number of surgical and other therapeutic approac... Read more about pancreatic cancertreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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This Article is Filed Under: Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer