Munson Health
Pancreatic Cancer

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by LaRusso L

(Cancer of the Pancreas)


Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer include:


Pancreatic cancer does not cause symptoms in its early stages. The cancer may grow for some time before it causes symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may be very vague. In many cases, the cancer has spread outside the pancreas by the time it is discovered.
Symptoms will vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. Symptoms include:
These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious health conditions. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor.


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done. The doctor may order blood and urine tests, as well as check for hidden blood in bowel movements.
Test may include:


Once cancer of the pancreas is found, staging tests are performed. These test help to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. Treatments for pancreatic cancer depend on the stage of the cancer.
Treatments include:


Removal of the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue may be done. Nearby lymph nodes may also need to be removed. In pancreatic cancer, surgery may also be performed to relieve symptoms. Surgeries include:
  • Whipple procedure—removal of the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, and some of the tissues around it
  • Total pancreatectomy—removal of the whole pancreas, part of the small intestine, part of the stomach, the bile duct, the gallbladder, spleen, and most of the lymph nodes in the area
  • Distal pancreatectomy—removal of the body and tail of the pancreas

Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)

This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
  • External radiation therapy—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
  • Internal radiation therapy—radioactive materials placed into the body in or near the cancer cells


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well.

Biological Therapy

The use of medications or substances made by the body. They can increase or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. It is also called biologic response modifier (BRM) therapy.

Combined Modality Therapy

Most times, pancreatic cancer is discovered at an advanced stage. Surgery may not be appropriate in this case. If surgery cannot be done, then chemotherapy and radiation are offered together to prolong survival.
Surgery would be appropriate in only 25% of patients with this disease in the early stage. In these cases, the patient would benefit from surgery. After surgery, follow-up chemotherapy and radiation therapy have been found to prolong survival in some cases.


If you think you are at risk for pancreatic cancer, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk, such as:
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing how much alcohol you drink or not drinking any alcohol
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking steps to prevent getting diabetes (eg, diet and exercise)
  • Avoiding exposure to cancer-causing agents (eg, if you work in the petroleum or dry-cleaning industries)


American Cancer Society

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network



BC Cancer Agency

Canadian Cancer Society



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Carson-DeWitt R. Reducing your risk of pancreatic cancer. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: . Updated September 2009. Accessed April 9, 2010.

Pancreatic cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: . Accessed July 24, 2009.

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