Diseases & Conditions

Pancreatic Cancer

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is an organ found behind the stomach. The main jobs of the pancreas are to aid in breaking down food and to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. The pancreas makes insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Cancer in the pancreas occurs when the cells in the pancreas multiply out of control. A mass of tissue can result. Sometimes, this mass is benign (not cancerous). In pancreatic cancer, however, the mass is malignant (cancerous).

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

The following can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Long-term diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Certain hereditary disorders
  • Being older than 40
  • Being male
  • Being African-American

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer does not always show symptoms, especially in the earlier stages. However, pancreatic cancer can have the following symptoms:

  • Upper abdominal pain that may spread to the back
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Blood clots

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

It is hard to detect pancreatic cancer in the early stages. This is because doctors cannot feel the pancreas in a routine exam. If your doctor suspects that you may have pancreatic cancer, he or she may order imaging tests to form pictures of the internal organs. An endoscopic ultrasound may be done. An endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is a thin tube with a camera at the end that is passed through the mouth and into the stomach. The ultrasound probe at the end of the endoscope allows imaging of the pancreas through the stomach wall. If necessary, an ultrasound- guided biopsy (tissue sample) from the pancreas can be obtained during the procedure.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

In the later stages, the treatment of pancreatic cancer is not likely to be effective. By the time a diagnosis is made, it is often too late for complete surgical removal of the pancreas. However, there are different ways to try to treat pancreatic cancer. These include:

  • Surgical removal of the cancerous part of the pancreas (resection)
  • Radiation to kill the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy
  • Clinical trials

What is the outlook for people with pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths. After one year, the survival rate is about 20%. After five years, that number drops to about 6%. If a resection can be performed, the average survival rate is 18 to 20 months. The five-year survival rate in such cases rises to 10-25%.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/27/2015…#15806

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