Pancreatic cancer starts in the cells of the duct and spreads into the body
pancreas. Nearby blood vessels and nerves may be invaded. Without treatment,
this type of cancer will spread to every abdominal organ and to other parts of
body, via the lymphatic system. The causes are unknown, but risk factors may
- Cigarette smoking
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Advancing age (over 65 years).
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often vague and can appear similar to
those caused by other conditions. This means that pancreatic cancer is often
not diagnosed until it is quite advanced. Some of the common symptoms may
- Persistent pain in the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Jaundice, if the bile duct is blocked
- Back pain (in some cases).
If pancreatic cancer is suspected, your doctor will refer you for tests.
may require the following:
- CT scan - a special x-ray taken from many
different angles, to build
a three-dimensional picture of your body. A dye may be injected to
further highlight internal organs.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - similar to
a CT scan but
uses magnetism instead of x-rays to build three-dimensional pictures of your
- Ultrasound - sound waves create a picture of
- Endoscopy - a thin telescope is inserted down
your throat to allow the
doctor to see inside your digestive system.
- Laparoscopy - the internal organs are examined
with an instrument
inserted into the abdomen through a small cut.
- Tissue biopsy - a small sample of the pancreas
is removed with a
needle and examined in a laboratory.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on your age and general health, the
and location of the cancer, and whether it has spread to other parts of the
You may receive one type of treatment or a combination. Generally, options
- Surgery - is used when the cancer has not
spread beyond the pancreas.
The cancer and part of the pancreas and part of the small bowel are removed
in an operation called 'Whipple's resection'. Some of the bile ducts, gall
and stomach may also be removed.
- Radiotherapy - radiation is used after surgery
to destroy any cancer cells
that may remain in the body.
- Chemotherapy - either tablets or injections of
anti-cancer drugs may be
used after surgery.