How would I know if I may have pancreatic cancer?

How would I know if I may have pancreatic cancer?
How would I know if I may have pancreatic cancer?

The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 44,000 cases of cancer of the pancreas will be diagnosed in 2011. The disease occurs most often in persons older than 65 years. Risk factors that can increase your chance of developing pancreatic cancer are smoking tobacco, diabetes, having relatives who had the disease, inflammation of the pancreas, and obesity. 


The pancreas is an organ located between the stomach and the spine. It is approximately 6 inches long. The pancreas has two functions: its exocrine cells provide pancreatic juices that help digestion, and its endocrine cells produce the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help regulate blood sugar levels. Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur in the ducts that carry the pancreatic juices to the small intestines.


Symptoms Pancreatic cancer often does not produce symptoms during the early stages of the disease. As the tumor grows, patients may experience some of these common symptoms: dark urine, pale stools, yellow color to the skin and eyes, pain in the upper part of the belly, pain in the middle of the back that does not go away with a change in position, nausea and vomiting, and stools that float. People with advanced pancreatic cancer may experience weakness or a tired feeling, loss of appetite or full feeling, or unexplained weight loss.


Diagnosis A diagnosis is based on results of a combination of blood and other laboratory tests and a physical examination. Imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, and endoscopic ultrasonography may be used to visualize the pancreas. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and needle biopsy are other tests used to make a diagnosis.


Treatment Cancer of the pancreas can be cured only if it is found at an early stage and only if the whole tumor can be surgically removed. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy. Location of the tumor in the pancreas, whether the cancer has spread, and the patient's age and general health are factors when determining optimal treatment plans. Most patients receive more than one type of treatment. ONA

Source: National Cancer Institute. What you need to know about cancer of the pancreas. Rockville, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2010. NIH Publication No. 10-1560. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/pancreas. Accessed November 21, 2011.


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