(Cancer of the Pancreas)
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Pancreatic cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the pancreas. The pancreas is a digestive organ. It makes digestive enzymes and hormones.
Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.
Pancreatic cancer is more common in men and people aged 55 years old and older. Other things that raise the risk are:
Pancreatic cancer does not usually cause symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms occur, the cancer has often spread outside the pancreas.
Symptoms may be:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may order blood and urine tests, as well as check for hidden blood in the stool.
Imaging tests check the pancreas and surrounding structures. They may include:
A biopsy may be done—a sample of pancreatic tissue will be taken and tested.
The exam and test results are used to diagnose the cancer. They are also used for staging. Staging outlines how far and fast cancer has spread.
The goal is to remove the cancer, if possible, and to ease symptoms. Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. It may include:
Most times, pancreatic cancer is found at a later stage. This means that surgery may not be helpful. If surgery cannot be done, then chemotherapy and radiation may be given together. This may increase survival time.
The risk of pancreatic cancer may be lowered by:
American Cancer Society
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Canadian Cancer Society
Pancreatic Cancer Canada
General information about pancreatic cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/patient/pancreatic-treatment-pdq. Accessed March 21, 2021.
Pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer.html. Accessed March 21, 2021.
Pancreatic adenocarcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pancreatic-adenocarcinoma. Accessed March 21, 2021.
Saluja A, Maitra A. Pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Gastroenterology. 2019;156(7):1937-1940.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP