Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic tumors | Risk Factors | Treatment

Pancreatic cancer will develop and spread, often before it is ever discovered. It attacks nearly 50,000 people per year in the United States. Although certain risk factors for pancreatic are identifiable, even today, the causes of pancreatic cancer are still unknown. Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer with few symptoms until the cancer is advanced. These mild symptoms may include jaundice, change in the color of your stool or urine, abdominal pain, weight loss, and diarrhea.

What is Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancers are diagnosed as either an endocrine or exocrine tumor. Endocrine tumors are very rare and the majority of these tumors are benign. Exocrine tumors are the most prominent of pancreatic cancer. These tumors are predominantly adenocarcinomas (which means these tumors begin in gland cells of the pancreas). Eventually, cells from the malignant tumor could travel elsewhere in the body (metastasize) through the blood or lymphatic system. Pancreatic cancer may go undetected until it is too advanced. Unfortunately, a cure is rarely possible at that point. Imaging tests like CT scans and ultrasounds provide some information about the degree of spread of the cancer, but knowing exactly how far pancreatic cancer has spread usually requires surgery.

Risk Factors

No one understands the underlying causes of pancreatic cancer, but certain risk factors have been identified. Some of the risk factors that are linked to pancreatic cancer include genetics, diabetes, poor diet / low levels of lycopene and selenium, obesity, smoking, alcohol intake and heavy exposure to certain pesticides, dyes and chemicals. Eliminating these risk factors for pancreatic cancer will not reduce your risk entirely. Eating a healthy diet and frequent exercise will improve your overall health, and help reduce any risk of health problems in general.


The best treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on how far it has progressed. Treatments for pancreatic cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. If pancreatic cancer seems likely, doctors may recommend Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)with a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and determine surgical resectability of the tumor.

The five types of standard treatment that are used for pancreatic cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Chemoradiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy

The Healthquest Guidebook

As a community service, we have produced a free guidebook on how to detect and prevent common cancers, and when you need to have screenings with your family physician.

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