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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that originates from the tissue of the pancreas which may spread to the contiguous organs of the abdomen.  Pancreatic cancer is highly lethal and may be hard to diagnose in the early stage of the disease. The majority of pancreatic cancers originate from the exocrine portion of the pancreas and are usually the adenocarcinoma type.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer may be more likely to appear in the latter stages of the disease and may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain which may radiate to the back
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

Imaging tests like computed tomography and ultrasound may be used to demonstrate the characteristics of the pancreas. Endoscopic biopsy of the pancreatic tissue may confirm the diagnosis.  

Treatment Options

The goal in treatment for pancreatic cancer is to eliminate the pancreatic tumor immediately or to prevent its spread. The following may be treatment options for pancreatic cancer.

Surgery – The Whipple’s procedure or pancreatoduodenectomy is the removal of the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine (duodenum), gallbladder and part of the bile duct. Gastrointestinal Surgeons perform this procedure if pancreatic cancers originate from the head of the pancreas. For tumors originating from the tail of the pancreas, a surgical procedure is then performed known as distal pancreatectomy or removal of the tail end with part of the body of the pancreas and the spleen.

Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy uses high energy beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation may be used before and after pancreatic surgeries.

Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy implores the use of drugs orally or intravenously to kill cancer cells. 

Targeted Therapy – Targeted drugs like Erlotinib block chemicals that signals cancer cells to grow and divide. Targeted therapy may be used in advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.


In general, the outlook for pancreatic cancer is poor. Diagnosis is usually delayed because of its late onset of symptoms at a time that the pancreatic cancer is already advancing. Only 10 to 20% of individuals that are diagnosed are eligible for surgery and only 5% survive after 5 years from surgery, according to select statistics.

It is important to recognize that medications and medical procedures are associated with benefits and risks that should be discussed with your physician. It is important to recognize that all information contained on this website cannot be considered to be specific medical diagnosis, medical treatment, or medical advice. As always, you should consult with a physician regarding any medical condition. Your Health Access disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.