Share:

Share to Twitter

Pancreatic Cancer

Printer Friendly PDF

Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells within the tissues of the pancreas become cancerous. The disease forms in one of two different types of cells: exocrine (cells that make enzymes to aid digestion) and endocrine (hormone-making cells). Exocrine tumors comprise 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. The prognosis and treatment of endocrine cancers of the pancreas vary from the more common exocrine cancers because they may have different causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Texas, with the death rate increasing over the last decade. The survival rates for pancreatic cancer are lower than most other forms of cancer, with only 6 percent of newly diagnosed patients expected to survive more than five years. The low survival rates can be attributed in part to the lack of symptoms during the early stages of the disease and the lack of a reliable screening test.

Statistics 

  • Pancreatic cancer ranks as the fourth deadliest cancer in the United States after cancers of the lung, colon, and breast.
  • In 2013, an estimated 45,220 pancreatic cancer new diagnoses and 38,460 deaths are expected in the U.S.
  • In Texas, an estimated 2,775 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in 2013, with 2,510 deaths expected.

Risk Factors 

  • Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age, with nearly all patients diagnosed after age 45. The median age of diagnosis is 71.
  • Race: African Americans face a higher risk of pancreatic cancer than do whites.
  • Smoking: People who smoke are approximately twice as likely to have pancreatic cancer as nonsmokers.
  • Obesity: Those who are considered obese face an increased risk of the disease.
  • Family History: Those with a family history of the disease have an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. In some cases, the incidence of pancreatic cancer in a family may be associated with a genetic mutation. Genetic tests may identify a person’s risk for the disease.
  • Health Conditions: Pancreatic cancer is more common in diabetics and in some cases the cancer appears to cause the diabetes. Chronic pancreatitis due to a gene mutation; cirrhosis of the liver; and excess stomach acid or the bacteria H. pylori also increase risk.
  • Industrial Exposure: Increased risk is associated with long-term exposure to some pesticides, dyes, and chemicals.

Symptoms and Signs 

Because the pancreas is located deep in the body, physicians often are unable to detect tumors during a regular checkup. When symptoms begin to appear, pancreatic cancer has often grown to an advanced stage and metastasized to surrounding organs, leading to a lower survival rate. If any of these symptoms are experienced, consult a physician:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Discomfort in the mid-back or abdomen
  • Diabetes
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Difficulty digesting fatty foods
  • Pale stools, dark urine
  • Blood clots
  • Uneven texture of fatty tissue under the skin

Tips for Prevention 

While there is no definite way to prevent pancreatic cancer, men and women can actively take steps to decrease their risk. Because smokers face a significantly increased risk, everyone should avoid smoking, as the use of tobacco also increases risk for a number of other cancer types. In addition, obesity can further complicate pancreatic cancer, so maintaining a healthy body weight through proper nutrition and consistent physical activity is recommended.

Treatment 

Treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients often include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. A combination of treatments may be used to provide the best chance of disease control. In addition, clinical trials are regularly conducted to identify new or expanded cancer therapies to improve treatment outcomes for this disease. Through participation in clinical trials, patients can help physicians identify new and promising drugs, while expanding their own treatment options.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, and Texas Cancer Registry