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Need a Second Opinion?

If you'd like to schedule an appointment for a second opinion, call 434.924.9333.


Need a Second Opinion?

If you'd like to schedule an appointment for a second opinion, call 434.924.9333.


If you need to speak with someone about your appointment, call 434.924.9333.


Make an Appointment

If you'd like to make an appointment or get a second opinion, call 434.924.9333.

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Pancreatic Cancer


Pancreatic cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the pancreas. The pancreas is a long, flattened pear-shaped organ in the abdomen. It makes digestive enzymes and hormones including insulin.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

A graphic depicting the outline of a woman on the left highlighting the pancreas underlying the stomach and on the right side a closer cut away view of the pancreas underlying the stomach with the spleen, liver and colon also highlighted
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer include:

  • Age: 40 or older
  • Sex: male
  • Smoking and using smokeless tobacco (eg, chewing tobacco)
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis, hereditary pancreatitis, family nonpolyposis colon cancer syndrome
  • Family or personal history of certain types of colon polyps or colon cancer
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer (especially in Ashkenazi Jews with BRCA2 [breast cancer associated]) gene
  • High-fat diet
  • Being overweight or obese


Symptoms will vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain
  • Jaundice
  • Weakness, dizziness, chills, muscle spasms, diarrhea (especially if the cancer involves the islet cells that make insulin and other hormones)


Test may include:

  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan 
  • Ultrasonography
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) 
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)
  • Angiography 
  • Biopsy 


Treatments for pancreatic cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. Treatments include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy  
  • Biological Therapy  
  • Combined Modality Therapy


Ways to reduce risk:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing how much alcohol you drink or not drinking any alcohol
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking steps to prevent getting diabetes (eg, diet and exercise)
  • Avoiding exposure to cancer-causing agents (eg, if you work in the petroleum or dry-cleaning industries)


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Pancreatic Cancer Program

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and we're working hard to change that. Our comprehensive pancreatic cancer program offers care for pancreatic cancer patients and those who are at high risk for the disease. Call 434.243.5233 to learn more or make an appointment.