DEFINITION--Uncontrolled growth of malignant cells in the pancreas. This is the
4th leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Pancreas, an organ in the back of the upper abdomen. The
pancreas produces intestinal enzymes to help digest food and insulin to control blood
SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Men more often than women, between ages 35 and 70.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
- Rapid, unexplained weight loss.
- Pain in the back or upper abdomen that is often relieved by bending forward.
- Blood clots in veins anywhere, especially the arms and legs. This is often an early
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes) from blockage of the nearby bile duct. Jaundice is
usually accompanied by intense itching.
RISK INCREASES WITH
- Chronic pancreatitis.
- Diabetes mellitus.
- Genetic factors. This is more common in blacks than Caucasians.
- Excess alcohol consumption.
- Geographic location. The incidence is higher in Israel, the U.S., Sweden and Canada than
in other parts of the world.
- Poor nutrition, especially a diet high in fat, protein and processed foods containing
many food additives.
- Exposure to industrial chemicals, such as urea, naphthalene or benzidine.
HOW TO PREVENT--Cannot be prevented. Avoid risk factors where possible.
What To Expect
- Your own observation of symptoms.
- Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
- Laboratory blood-chemistry studies of the pancreas, liver and gallbladder, and
- Needle biopsy (See Glossary) of the liver.
- Exploratory abdominal surgery (laparotomy).
- X-rays of the abdomen, liver, gallbladder and blood vessels (angiography).
- Ultrasound (See Glossary) of the pancreas.
- CT scan (See Glossary) of the pancreas.
APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE
Doctor's treatment. Treatment will vary depending on overall health, spread of the
cancer and location and size of tumor. Psychotherapy or counseling to help adjust to
incurable illness. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. > Surgery to:
Remove the tumor, if it is small. Relieve any bile-duct blockage. Relieve or prevent
- Hemorrhage into the intestinal tract.
- Pancreas infections.
- Spread of cancer to liver, other abdominal organs and lungs (usually has already
occurred by the time of diagnosis).
- Diabetes mellitus.
PROBABLE OUTCOME--This condition is currently considered incurable. Survival
chances for more than 1 or 2 years are unlikely. However, symptoms can be relieved or
controlled. Scientific research into causes and treatment continues, so there is hope for
increasingly effective treatment and cure.
How To Treat
- The more you can learn and understand about this disorder, the more you will be able to
make informed decisions about where to go for your care, the treatments available, the
risks involved, side effects of therapy and expected outcome.
- See Resources for Additional Information.
MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:
- Antibiotics for coexisting infections.
- Pain relievers.
- Anticancer drugs.
- Pancreatic enzymes to replace those the pancreas cannot manufacture.
- Sedatives for sleep.
ACTIVITY--Remain as active as your strength allows.
DIET--No special diet.
Call Your Doctor If
- You have symptoms of pancreas cancer.
- The following occurs during treatment: Fever and headache. Muscle aches and fatigue.
Nausea and vomiting. Severe abdominal pain and swelling. Black, tarry stools.
- New unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.