Pancreatic Cancer

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

  • Pancreatic cancer begins when cells in the pancreas start to grow uncontrollably. The
    pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It is shaped a bit like a fish with a
    wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail.
  • In adults it is about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide. The head of the
    pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen (belly), behind where the stomach meets
    the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
  • The body of the pancreas is behind the stomach, and the tail of the pancreas is on the
    left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.

What causes Pancreatic Cancer?

1. Cigarette smoking: Cigarette smoking doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer. In fact,
some scientists have estimated that one in four, or one in five cases of pancreatic cancer
are caused by smoking cigarettes.
2. Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Over 80% of
pancreatic cancers develop between the ages of 60 and 80 years.
3. Race: Studies in the United States have shown that pancreatic cancer is more common in the African American population than it is in the white population.
4. Gender: Cancer of the pancreas is more common in men than in women. Men are more
likely to smoke than women.
5. Religious background: Pancreatic cancer is proportionally more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the rest of the population.
6. Chronic pancreatitis: Long-term (chronic) inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) has been linked to cancer of the pancreas.
7. Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, and long-standing adult-onset diabetes also increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
8. Obesity: Obesity significantly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Believe it or not, it has been estimated that 8% of cancers are related to obesity.
9. Diet: Diets high in meats, cholesterol, fried foods and nitrosamines may increase risk,while diets high in fruits and vegetables reduce risk. The vitamin folate may be
10. Genetics: As mentioned earlier, a number of inherited cancer syndromes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

  • Jaundice and related symptoms
    Jaundice is yellowing of the eyes and skin. Most people with pancreatic cancer (and virtually
    all people with ampullary cancer) will have jaundice as one of their first symptoms.Dark urine: Sometimes, the first sign of jaundice is darker urine. As bilirubin levels in the blood increase, the urine becomes brown in color.
    Light-colored or greasy stools: Bilirubin normally helps give stools their brown color. If the bile duct is blocked, stools might be pale or gray.
  • Belly or back pain
    Pain in the abdomen (belly) or back is common in pancreatic cancer. Cancers that start in the body or tail of the pancreas can grow fairly large and start to press on other nearby organs, causing pain.
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
    Unintended weight loss is very common in people with pancreatic cancer. These people often have little or no appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting
    If the cancer presses on the far end of the stomach it can partly block it, making it hard for food to get through. This can cause nausea, vomiting, and pain that tend to be worse after eating.
  • Gallbladder or liver enlargement
    If the cancer blocks the bile duct, bile can build up in the gallbladder, making it larger. Sometimes a doctor can feel this (as a large lump under the right ribcage) during a physical exam.
  • Blood clots
    Sometimes, the first clue that someone has pancreatic cancer is a blood clot in a large vein, often in the leg. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected leg.
  • Fatty tissue abnormalities
    Some people with pancreatic cancer develop an uneven texture of the fatty tissue underneath the skin. This is caused by the release of the pancreatic enzymes that digest fat.
  • Diabetes
    Rarely, pancreatic cancers cause diabetes (high blood sugar) because they destroy the insulin making cells. Symptoms can include feeling thirsty and hungry, and having to urinate often.

Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Depending on the type and stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment options for people
with pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Surgery
  • Ablation or embolization treatments
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy and other drugs

Pain control is also an important part of treatment for many patients.

Links to some studies regarding Pancreatic Cancer

    • Type-II diabetes and pancreatic cancer: a meta-analysis of 36 studies

    • Inhibition of Hedgehog Signaling Enhances Delivery of Chemotherapy in a Mouse
      Model of Pancreatic Cancer