Pancreatic Cancer

Quick Facts

Pancreatic Cancer

Overview

Pancreatic cancer starts when cells in the pancreas start to grow out of control. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It’s shaped a bit like a fish with a wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. In adults it’s about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen (belly), behind where the stomach meets the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The body of the pancreas is behind the stomach, and the tail of the pancreas is on the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.

Symptoms

Jaundice (Yellowing of the Eyes and Skin)
Dark Urine
Lightly Colored Stools
Itchy Skin

Risk Factors

Age 65+
Men are Slightly More Likely to Develop Pancreatic Cancer
Strongly Linked to Family History
Tobacco Use
Being Overweight/Obese
Workplace Exposure to Certain Chemicals
Diabetes
Cirrhosis of the Liver

Prevention

Don't Smoke
Stay at a Healthy Weight
Limit Alcohol Use
Limit Exposure to Certain Chemicals in the Workplace

Screening Info

Pancreatic cancer is hard to find early. The pancreas is deep inside the body, so early tumors can’t be seen or felt by health care providers during routine physical exams. People usually have no symptoms until the cancer has already spread to other organs.

Screening tests or exams are used to look for a disease in people who have no symptoms (and who have not had that disease before). At this time, no major professional groups recommend routine screening for pancreatic cancer in people who are at average risk. This is because no screening test has been shown to lower the risk of dying from this cancer.

Sometimes when a person has pancreatic cancer, the levels of certain proteins in the blood go up. These proteins, called tumor markers, can be detected with blood tests. The tumor markers CA 19-9 and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) are the ones most closely tied to pancreatic cancer. But these proteins don’t always go up when a person has pancreatic cancer, and even if they do, the cancer is often already advanced by the time this happens. Sometimes levels of these tumor markers can go up even when a person doesn’t have pancreatic cancer. For these reasons, blood tests aren’t used to screen for pancreatic cancer, although a doctor might still order these tests if a person has symptoms that might be from pancreatic cancer. These tests are more often used in people already diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to help tell if treatment is working or if the cancer is progressing.

Find Support Now

The American Cancer Society says:

“No one need face cancer alone. We are here to provide support every step of the way, from the time you schedule a cancer test through recovery and beyond. We know what you are going through and we can put you in touch with others who can speak from experience. You are not alone. Call us anytime, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at 1-800-227-2345. We can help.”

More @ American Cancer Society

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