Pancreatic Cancer

Effects the primary functions of the pancreas

By Triston Brewer, Medical Research EditorLast modified: September 16, 2011

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer affects the primary functions of the pancreas, which is one of the most versatile and vital of the body's human organs. As the cells grow and attack the pancreas, the effectiveness of the pancreas decreases, resulting in a host of symptoms.

How Is Pancreatic Cancer Classified?

Pancreatic cancer must be categorized into two categories, exocrine and endocrine functions, depending on which is affected with cancer. Each has a different set of risk factors, causes and other variables related to pancreatic cancer. The most common type of pancreatic cancer involves the exocrine functions. The malignant tumors are called adenocarcinomas, which account for 95% of exocrine pancreatic cancers.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are varied and quite extensive, depending on where it has spread and the size of the tumor in question. Often labeled a silent disease because it seldom shows early diagnoses symptoms, tumors affecting the pancreas are usually too small to detect or cause symptoms. When the cancer spreads, however, the symptoms include pain in the upper abdomen, yellowing of the skin and eyes and darkening of the urine, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss and grey stool. These are not the only symptoms of pancreatic cancer, however, and if any of these mentioned are being experienced, it is advisable to consult your physician.

Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer

There are many underlying factors which can lead to pancreatic cancer, but there are some that are more prevalent and have been noted by researchers. The factors of age, gender, race, cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, family history, stomach problems, and excessive alcohol consumption have all been noted to be some of the many risk factors which can contribute to pancreatic cancer developing in patients.

Diagnoses of Pancreatic Cancer

A physical exam is the first line of defense in detecting pancreatic cancer in individuals. Generally, physicians, make special note of back pain, weight loss, poor appetite, digestive problems, blood clots, or swollen lymph nodes to determine if pancreatic cancer is present in the body. It is also common for many doctors to order blood, urine and stool samples. Also, liver tests can check for bile duct blockage. As there several stages to pancreatic cancer, a physician is required to run specialized tests to pinpoint the exact development of the cancer in the pancreas.

Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is very treatable in its early stages, however, that is rarely the case, as many symptoms mask other ailments or elude detection after overall health analysis. Surgery can remove part of the pancreas if it has not metastasized. If the disease has spread, however, it is extremely difficult to remove all cancerous cells. There are three main procedures doctors administer to treat pancreatic cancer. The most common procedure for the head of the pancreas is the whipple procedure, which removes the head, or all, of the organ along with a part of the stomach duodenum, lymph nodes, and other tissues. This complex procedure involves many risks, with complications of leaking, infections, excessive bleeding, and stomach problems possible. A distal pancreatectomy involves removing the tail portion of the pancreas, sometimes a portion of the body, and the spleen. this procedure is typically for treating neuroendocrine tumors. A total pancreatectomy removes the entire pancreas and spleen. Although patients can live without a pancreas, diabetes usually results after surgery as the body can no longer produce insulin cells. Another alternative to these surgeries is a palliative surgery when the pancreas cannot be removed.

Chemotherapy uses chemicals that interfere with the cell division process, resulting in the cancer cells killing themselves. The treatment occurs in cycles with breaks between so the body can heal. However, there are many side effects with this form of treatment including hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting, to name a few. Radiotherapy, sometimes used as a stand alone treatment for pancreatic cancer, utilizes high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells. This process involves a treatment series which lasts typically 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks.

How to Prevent Pancreatic Cancer

When it comes to preventing this silent killer, there are still no established guidelines for preventing the disease. There are certain preventative measures, however, that can reduce your risk to an extent. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk factor by as much as 30%, while maintaining a healthy weight, incorporating exercise, and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables and grains can help ward off the disease. There is no concrete evidence that these guidelines will prevent pancreatic cancer however. Some research studies point to vitamins reducing the risk, as Vitamin D has been linked to reducing several types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. Other vitamins such as B12, B6, and foliate are also suggested to reduce the risk.

Cost of Pancreatic Cancer Treatments

As pancreatic cancer involves a very extensive and long treatment process depending on the stage of the disease, costs associated with treatment can vary greatly. It is suggested that every patient research the alternatives available for the individualized treatment. To find out about pancreatic cancer treatment in your city, search our directory guide to find a physician near your city.

Find a Pancreatic Cancer Specialists near you.


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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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