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Diseases & Conditions

Digestive Disease Institute Overview

Pancreatic Cancer

Carcinoma of the pancreas accounts for approximately 5 percent of cancer diagnosed in the United States and has a five-year survival of 1 percent. More than 90 percent of these tumors are adenocarcinomas and arise from the ductal cells of the gland.

Risk Factors

There are numerous risk factors for pancreatic cancer, including cigarette smoking, a high-fat diet, chronic pancreatitis, hereditary pancreatitis and industrial exposure to coal tar derivatives. Hereditary pancreatitis carries a five-fold increase risk of development of pancreatic cancer when compared to the general population.


The clinical manifestations of pancreatic carcinoma may be non-specific and are often subtle. The tumor has usually reached an advanced stage by the time of diagnosis. Most common symptoms include upper abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and jaundice. Pancreatic carcinoma is usually diagnosed by CT scan or ultrasound. Fine needle aspiration with endoscopic ultrasonography or CT guidance usually confirms the diagnosis.


Surgical treatment offers the only chance of cure. Only 10 percent of tumors are resectable at the time of diagnosis. Pancreatic resection procedures are recommended for those patients without advanced disease. Palliative measures such as surgical bypass procedures or endoscopic placement of stents may be undertaken in patients with unresectable or metastatic lesions.

Additional Resources

For more information on pancreatic cancer, please visit the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center Web site.

Online Medical Textbook

For additional information on gastrointestinal disorders, please visit the Cleveland Clinic Disease Management Project. This free and comprehensive source contains chapters written by experienced clinicians from The Cleveland Clinic, and highlights the evaluation and management of common diseases. It also discusses recommendations from national practice guidelines, and puts them in the context of the accumulated clinic experience of our experts.