About Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the pancreas, an organ in the upper abdomen that aids in digestion and secretes various hormones to regulate body functions (such as insulin to control blood-sugar levels.)
Pancreatic cancers are classified based on the type of cells affected: exocrine (which produce the digestive juices that go into the small intestine) or endocrine (which produce several hormones that go directly into the bloodstream). Approximately 95% of pancreatic cancers originate in the exocrine cells.
Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Screening for pancreatic cancer is not currently recommended for the general population, but high risk groups — like those hereditary conditions that elevate cancer risk — should discuss early detection options with their doctors.
Pancreatic cancer rarely displays symptoms in its early stages, but they can include:
  • Jaundice (yellowing in the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen
  • Light-colored or greasy stools
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite or feeling very full after a small meal
  • Fatigue
While many of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions, early pancreatic cancer detection is critical to successful treatment. If you or a loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, please contact a doctor for further evaluation.
Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer
Risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer include:
  • Age: Approximately two-thirds of pancreatic cancer diagnoses are among people 65 or older
  • Diseases and Conditions:
    • Chronic pancreatitis: A disease characterized by long-term inflammation of the pancreas, this condition is linked to a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
    • Cirrhosis: A chronic and progressive disease in which liver cells are replaced with scar tissue, people with cirrhosis have a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer
    • Diabetes: Diabetics are more likely to get pancreatic cancer, particularly if they have another risk factor such as chronic pancreatitis or cirrhosis; conversely, pancreatic cancer can lead to diabetes if it affects the insulin-producing cells of that organ
    • Genetic Conditions: Inherited gene mutations that are passed from parents to children may account for as many as 10 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. These include BRCA2 gene mutations, familial melanoma, familial pancreatitis, hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC/Lynch syndrome), Peutz-Jeghers syndrome and Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome
    • Helicobacter pylori infection: H. pylori is a bacteria that is associated with stomach ulcers, but infection with this pathogen can also elevate pancreatic cancer risk as well
  • Ethnicity: In the United States, African Americans have an elevated risk of developing pancreatic cancer
  • Family History: In addition to genetic conditions that can elevate pancreatic cancer risk, a family history of pancreatic cancer can also raise an individual’s likelihood of developing this disease
  • Gender: Men are 30% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women
  • Obesity: Obese people are 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer
  • Tobacco Use: Compared to non-smokers, smokers are twice as likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Use of smokeless tobacco products (such as chewing tobacco) increases pancreatic risk as well.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have an elevated risk of pancreatic cancer, please consult with a doctor on preventive and early detection measures that are available.
If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, find out more about becoming a patient by calling 800-826-HOPE or filling out the Request a New Patient Appointment Online form.
Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute