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Cancer of the pancreas refers to the growth of cancer cells in the pancreas. The pancreas is in the abdomen (belly), with the stomach, intestines, and other organs around it. It makes juices used in digestion and several hormones, including insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose) level. It releases these substances into ducts (tubes). Pancreatic cancer starts from cells lining these ducts.
Almost 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with this cancer each year. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Early detection is best for a cure, but this cancer is hard to find early because most symptoms do not occur until the cancer has spread.
There are two types of pancreatic cancer:
The different types of cancer have their own causes, risk factors, and treatment. Pancreatic cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Causes are unclear, but smoking, alcoholism, and chronic inflammation (swelling) of the pancreas (pancreatitis) are related to this disease. Pancreatic cancer isn’t contagious, and it’s not hereditary except in rare cases.
The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:
In the early stages, there are often no symptoms of this condition. As the cancer gets worse (progresses), symptoms may vary depending on the type of pancreatic cancer you have. Symptoms include:
This condition may be diagnosed based on your medical history and a physical exam. This may include checking your skin and eyes for signs of jaundice and checking your abdomen for any changes in the areas near the pancreas. Your health care provider will also check for a collection of excess fluid in the abdomen (ascites). Tests will also be done, such as:
Removal of a sample of pancreatic tissue to be examined under a microscope (biopsy).
Other tests and procedures may also be done. If pancreatic cancer is confirmed, it will be staged to determine its severity and extent. Staging is an assessment of:
Depending on the type and stage of your pancreatic cancer, treatment may include:
Your health care provider may recommend a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. You may be referred to a health care provider who specializes in cancer (oncologist).
Follow these instructions at home regarding pancreatic cancer:
Contact a health care provider regarding pancreatic cancer if:
Get help right away if:
DOs and DON’Ts in managing pancreatic cancer: