About pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is a gland located deep in the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine. It makes enzymes that help digestion and hormones that control blood sugar levels. All the body’s organs, including the pancreas, are made up of cells. Pancreatic cancer begins when abnormal cells in the pancreas grow and divide out of control, forming a tumor.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer may cause only vague, unexplained symptoms. Pain (usually in the abdomen or back), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes) with or without itching, loss of appetite, nausea, change in stool, pancreatitis and recent-onset diabetes are symptoms that may indicate pancreatic cancer.

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, we urge you to speak to your provider immediately and ask about pancreatic cancer.

What causes pancreatic cancer?

If you are a first-degree relative of someone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. We strongly recommend that your family member with pancreatic cancer undergo genetic testing for inherited variants (mutations).

You may also be more likely to get pancreatic cancer if you:

  • Have long-standing diabetes
  • Have chronic or hereditary pancreatitis
  • Smoke
  • Are African American or of Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity
  • Are over age 60
  • Consume a diet high in red and processed meats
  • Are obese

How is pancreatic cancer detected?

Because the pancreas is located deep in the abdomen, doctors usually cannot see or feel a tumor during a physical exam. Also, pancreatic cancer symptoms are generally not obvious and usually develop over time. Both of these factors make pancreatic cancer difficult to detect early.

A pancreatic tumor can only be seen on an imaging study such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). Then, the doctor gets a sample of the tumor tissue to figure out the exact diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer patients who participate in clinical research tend to have better outcomes. Clinical trials are the only way for researchers to see if new treatments help people with pancreatic cancer.

The Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection (PRECEDE) Consortium, a group of experts from across the globe, is conducting a clinical trial for those who have an inherited genetic risk for this disease. If enrolled in the PRECEDE study, patients will be seen by their healthcare team every 6 to 12 months to evaluate early detection approaches to prevent disease progression.

Please contact our team to learn how to find out whether you’re eligible for the PRECEDE clinical trial by calling 571-472-0616.

If you’re diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your doctor will determine the cancer’s stage using the results of diagnostic tests, imaging scans and tumor samples. Patients with pancreatic cancer could be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation while being monitored by a team of cancer specialists.