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Pancreatic Cancer

A detailed image of the inside of a person. Their pancreas is highlighted in red, showing where pancreatic cancer can appear.

There are different types of pancreatic cancer and are classified based on the area of the pancreas where the disease begins. Healthy cells stop functioning correctly or grow out of control forming a malignant mass / tumor, which can prevent the pancreas from working correctly. The tumor an also continue to grow and spread to other areas in the body.

Types of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Exocrine tumors (most common type)

  • Endocrine tumors are also referred to as neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell tumors.

Some risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

Age: People older than 45 are at a greater risk, with most being age 65 or older at the time of diagnosis.

Gender: There is a higher incidence of men developing pancreatic cancer, but women can also develop the diseases.

Race/ethnicity: African Americans and those with an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Smoking: A smoker’s risk is increased 20%-30% to develop the disease. This includes cigarettes, cigars and pipes and use of smokeless tobacco products.

Diet: Regular consumption of high fat foods causes an increased risk.

Weight: Overweight or obese people have a higher risk of developing and dying from the disease.Carrying extra weight around the waistline may be a risk factor even for a person who is not considered very overweight.

Family history: Certain inherited conditions, genetic mutations or syndromes increase a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer.

Medical history: Chronic pancreatitis may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Possible other links exist between Hepatitis B infection and Cirrhosis. Helicobacter pylori, also called H. pylori can also cause an increased risk, but this bacteria is more often associated with stomach cancer.

Exposure: Certain chemical exposure including pesticides, benzene, certain dyes and petrochemicals, including solvents and degreasers may cause an increased risk.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain

  • Decreased appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Jaundice

Screening & Diagnostic Testing

A complete physical exam and medical history should be done. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure. Additional testing may include:

  • Blood tests

  • Imaging: CT, PET-CT, Ultrasound

  • Biopsy

  • Tissue testing

  • Molecular testing of tumor tissue

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)

Helpful Patient Resources:

We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and it is an emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.

National Cancer Institute

Pancreatic Cancer - Patient Version

American Cancer Society

Pancreatic Cancer

National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Guidelines for Patients