Pancreatic Cancer - Know the Facts

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Pancreatic cancer occurs when uncontrolled cell growth begins in an area of the pancreas. Tumors then develop, which interferes with the way the pancreas works. Pancreatic cancer often grows within the pancreas for a long time before it causes any symptoms. If the cancer grows outside of the pancreas, it often goes into the nearby bile ducts and lymph nodes in the abdomen. It can also spread to other areas of the body including the lungs or liver.

Types of Cancers in the Pancreas

Adenocarcinomas: exocrine cancers start in the cells of the pancreatic ducts, or cells that secrete enzymes. More than 95 out of 100 pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas.

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs): also known as islet cell tumors, they start in the endocrine cells within the pancreas. These can be benign or malignant.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get pancreatic cancer. There are some factors which can increase overall risk for pancreatic cancer including:

  • Older age
  • Male gender
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Chronic pancreatitis

Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer often does not cause any symptoms at first. Even when it does cause symptoms, they can be similar to those caused by other conditions. These may include:

  • Pain in your stomach or back
  • Yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark yellow or brown urine

Surgery is the most common way to provide treatment for pancreatic cancer. The Whipple procedure, also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy, is an operation which removes the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct. Neal Agee, MD, a fellowship-trained surgical oncologist, performs the Whipple procedure at Lutheran Hospital.