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Pancreatic Cancer

Definition

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

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)

Diagnosis   

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 

Treatment    

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

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

Prevention  

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.