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 pancreatic cancer usually does not occur until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
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
A doctor will perform a physical examination, review symptoms with the patient and perform testing that may include:
If initial testing indicates the presence of pancreatic cancer, treatment may include:
- Radiation therapy
- Laparoscopic pancreas resections
- The Whipple procedure and other surgeries for patients with tumors confined to the head of the pancreas that have not spread to any nearby blood vessels, organs or the abdominal cavity. The Whipple procedure is a complex surgery in which the head of the pancreas is removed, along with 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.
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