What is it?
The pancreas is an organ in the upper abdomen that produces both insulin to help the body maintain blood sugar and enzymes in the intestines to help the body digest food. Pancreatic cancer is a severe condition that occurs when cancerous cells grow in this organ. Because it usually causes no symptoms in its early development, diagnosis of the pancreatic cancer usually does not occur until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
Causes, Symptoms & Risk Factors
Pancreatic cancer typically affects people between the ages of 35 and 70, and occurs more commonly in men. It is rare in rarely affects children or adolescents. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer usually don’t appear in the early stages of the disease. Gradually, the patient may experience pain in the upper abdomen or back, and a loss of appetite will be accompanied by weight loss. Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- A feeling of nausea or vomiting
- A tired, achy feeling
While the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, the disease is commonly linked to smoking cigarettes even though it can strike non-smokers. Other risk factors of pancreatic cancer include:
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Poor diet that is high in fatty foods
- Exposure to industrial chemicals
- Family history
Tests, Procedures and Treatments
A doctor will perform a physical examination, review symptoms with the patient and perform testing that may include:
Treatments for pancreatic cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Surgery to remove the cancerous growth
- In advanced stages, surgery to remove the affected part of the stomach
Surgeons at St. Luke’s also perform the Whipple procedure, during which they remove the head of the pancreas, most of the duodenum (a part of the small intestine), a portion of the bile duct and sometimes a portion of the stomach. After the procedure, the surgeon reconstructs the digestive tract.