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WHAT IS  PANCREATIC CANCER?

  • Pancreatic cancer begins when abnormal cells within the pancreas grow out of control and form a tumor. The pancreas is a gland in the abdomen that lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine, with two main functions: digestion and blood sugar regulation.

  • More than 95 percent of pancreatic cancers are classified as exocrine tumors. These tumors start in the exocrine cells that make pancreatic enzymes that help in digestion. Within this category, the vast majority of tumors are adenocarcinomas.

  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pancreatic NETs or PNETs) account for less than 5 percent of all pancreatic tumors. They may be benign or malignant and tend to grow slower than exocrine tumors.

WHAT ARE  THE SYMPTOMS?

Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms in the early stages, which can make it hard to diagnose early. Symptoms can also be vague and may come and go, while the severity can also vary for each person. You may not have any or all of these symptoms.
It’s important to remember that symptoms can be caused by more common things. They can also be caused by conditions such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).

  • Pain in the mid-back or upper abdomen could be caused by a pancreatic tumor pushing against or invading nerves or organs near the pancreas.

  • Unexplained weight loss can be an early symptom and can occur without any pain or apparent change in digestion.

  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), caused by excess bilirubin (a component of bile) in the blood. Jaundice can also result in itchiness of the skin, abnormally dark urine, and light or clay-colored stools.

  • Many pancreatic cancer patients experience diarrhea, constipation or both. Diarrhea consisting of loose, watery, oily or foul-smelling stools can be caused by insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes in the intestines.

  • New-onset diabetes in people over the age of 50, and a sudden change in blood sugar levels in diabetics who previously had well-controlled diabetes.

  • This may include poor appetite, nausea, indigestion and vomiting.

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

The cause of the majority of pancreatic cancer cases is unknown, but research studies have identified the following risk factors that may increase the likelihood that someone will develop pancreatic cancer.

  • If a person has two or more first-degree relatives (mother, father, sibling or child) who have had pancreatic cancer, or a first-degree relative who developed pancreatic cancer before the age of 50, you may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

  • Risk of pancreatic cancer increases if there is a history of familial ovarian, breast, or colon cancer, hereditary pancreatitis or familial melanoma.

  • Pancreatic cancer is more likely to occur in people who have long-standing diabetes (more than 5 years). This can also be a symptom.

  • Chronic pancreatitis indicates an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. It’s even higher in individuals with hereditary pancreatitis.

  • People who smoke cigarettes are two times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people who have never smoked.

  • Obese people have a 20 percent increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer when compared with people who are of normal weight.

  • African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer when compared with individuals of Asian, Hispanic or Caucasian descent.

  • The chances of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 60.

  • While more research is needed, a diet high in red and processed meats may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. A diet high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk.

PANCREATIC  CANCER STATISTICS

  • Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate among all major cancers.

  • In nearly every country, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a single-digit five-year survival rate (2-9 percent). Source

  • Every day, more than 1,250 people worldwide will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and an estimated 1,180 will die from the disease. Source 1

  • It is estimated that in 2020, 480,000 new cases will be diagnosed globally. Source

HOW IS PANCREATIC CANCER TREATED?

Treatment for pancreatic cancer is dependent on how advanced the cancer is and a patient’s overall health. If possible, surgeons will remove the cancer; the most common operation is the Whipple procedure (surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas and other organs). Surgery is usually followed up with chemotherapy.

For metastatic pancreatic cancer (spread to other parts of the body) treatment may include chemotherapy and occasionally radiotherapy too. A patient may also be offered treatment to relieve symptoms and the opportunity to join a clinical trial.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE CONCERNED?

All of the symptoms and risk factors featured on this website can have multiple other causes and the symptoms you are experiencing may well be a sign of something else.

BUT if you’ve regularly been experiencing one or more of the symptoms mentioned on this website that are persistent, worsening, and not normal for you, do not ignore them, speak to your healthcare provider as soon as you can, and reference pancreatic cancer. If a friend or member of your family is having any of these symptoms, tell them to do the same.

If pancreatic cancer is found early, it is more treatable so visiting your doctor could save your life!

You can also find information on pancreatic cancer and support groups in your area, by contacting  coalition members near you.