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Pancreatic Cancer

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and women in the US, according to the American Cancer Society. The majority of pancreatic cancer cases occur in people 50 years of age or older.

There are several types of pancreatic cancers, including:

  • adenocarcinoma of the pancreas - the most common type of pancreatic cancer; occurs in the lining of the pancreatic duct.
  • cystadenocarcinoma - a rare pancreatic cancer.
Some noncancerous tumors in the pancreas include:
  • insulinoma - a rare pancreatic tumor that secretes insulin, the hormone that lowers glucose levels in the blood.
  • gastrinoma - a tumor which secretes above average levels of gastrin, a hormone which stimulates the stomach to secrete acids and enzymes. Gastrinoma can cause peptic ulcers.
  • glucagonoma - a tumor that secretes glucagon, a hormone which raises levels of glucose in the blood, leading to a rash.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

The following are the other most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • pain in the upper abdomen
  • poor appetite
  • weight loss
  • jaundice
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for pancreatic cancer may include:

  • ultrasound - a diagnostic technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs.
  • computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) - a non-invasive procedure that takes cross-sectional images of the brain or other internal organs; to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary x-ray.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a non-invasive procedure that produces two-dimensional views of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord.
  • endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) - this procedure involves inserting an endoscope (viewing tube) through the stomach and into the small intestine. A special dye injected during this procedures shows the ducts in the biliary system.
  • biopsy of the pancreas
  • special blood tests

Treatment for pancreatic cancer:

Specific treatment for pancreatic cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the cancer
  • type of cancer
  • your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • surgery (to remove the tumor or entire pancreas and/or the small intestine)
  • radiation therapy - high-dose x-rays used to kill cancer cells.
  • chemotherapy - drugs used to kill cancer cells.
  • pain medication
  • oral enzyme preparations
  • insulin treatment

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