Pancreatic Cancer: Main Symptoms, Risk Factors, And Treatment

Date May 15, 2018

Pancreas is a gland that is located behind the lower part of your stomach. Its two main functions are the following:

  • producing enzymes that aid digestion;
  • producing insulin and glucagon – hormones that regulate the levels of blood sugar.

Pancreatic cancer is the twelfth most common cancer and is responsible for 3.2% of all new cancer cases in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Unfortunately, it’s also among the deadliest types of cancer.

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Cancer of the pancreas often remains undetected until later stages, because it rarely produces symptoms in the beginning. However, treatment options are available to slow down its spread and alleviate symptoms. In some cases, the disease can be cured if found early.

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What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose, because it produces no symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, the following symptoms usually appear:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, dark-yellow or orange urine, pale-colored stools);
  • abdominal pain because of the pressure created by the growing tumor (the pain may get worse after meals);
  • loss of appetite and weight loss;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • diarrhea;
  • fever and chills;
  • persistent tiredness and weakness;
  • depression;
  • suddenly developing diabetes, if insulin-producing cells are affected.

These symptoms may not mean pancreatic cancer, but they may be a sign of a different problem and warrant a visit to the doctor.

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Who is at a higher risk of pancreatic cancer?

There are certain factors that are known to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. They include the following:

  • smoking – it nearly doubles the risk of the disease;
  • a high-fat diet;
  • family history of pancreatic cancer;
  • age – the disease is uncommon in people younger than 45;
  • diabetes;
  • long-term pancreatitis;
  • cirrhosis of the liver;
  • obesity.

The risk is higher in people who have a combination of these factors.

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How is pancreatic cancer treated?

The treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, the patient’s overall health, and the patient’s personal preferences.

If pancreatic cancer is found early, the most likely option is surgery to remove the tumor followed up by chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy may also be used to treat pancreatic cancer.

Another treatment option is immunotherapy (also called biological therapy) which helps the patient’s immune system fight cancer.

Is there a way to decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer?

There is no known way to prevent the disease. But there are certain measures that may help decrease the risk of getting it. They include:

  • giving up smoking;
  • taking measures to better manage diabetes;
  • limiting fatty foods in your diet and eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
  • maintaining a healthy weight.

Source: Mayo Clinic, National Cancer Institute, WebMD (1), WebMD (2), MedicineNet

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.