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Pancreatic Cancer

Overview

Pancreatic Cancer is a growth of abnormal cells within the pancreas. Currently, pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common gastrointestinal cancer in the United States. The pancreas is a 6-10 inch organ found lying horizontally below the stomach that has both endocrine and exocrine functions. It not only secretes digestive juices but it also secretes hormones that are used throughout the body.

Pancreatic cancer is named depending on where the cancer originates. Cancers found in the ducts or the cells that produce digestive enzymes are called adenocarcinomas, and they account for the vast majority of pancreatic cancer cases. Tumors originating in the hormone producing cells of the pancreas are called neuroendocrine tumors. There are many types of neuroendocrine tumors including insulinomas, gastrinomas and glucagonomas.

Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas has an extremely high rate of morbidity and mortality. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, over 37,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and over 33,000 deaths occur each year. The mortality rate is nearly 90% making it the deadliest of all cancers. The disease has a very poor prognosis with the chances of living past 5 years around 5%. Early detection is key, though difficult in this form of cancer.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

Causes

The causes of pancreatic cancer are not directly known, however genetic predispositions may have an effect. Studies have shown that lifestyle factors and environmental factors play more important roles in the development of pancreatic cancer.

Symptoms

Symptoms of pancreas cancer are related to the location of the tumor.

Many of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer manifest themselves late in the disease. Many of the symptoms are also indicative of other diseases, which leads to misdiagnoses and late detection of the cancer. It is because the cancer is so hard to detect and the symptoms so general that the cancer is already in the metastatic stage before the disease is even recognized.

Some symptoms may include:

To learn more about pancreatic cancer, please read the following articles:

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Jan 07, 2009

Syed A Ahmad, MD Syed A Ahmad, MD
Associate Professor of Surgery
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati