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Pancreatic Cancer

Understanding Pancreatic Cancer


Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It has developed a bad reputation and for good reason. Pancreatic cancer spreads quickly, treatment options are limited and most patients aren’t diagnosed until it has advanced to a later stage when mortality rates are high.

Treating Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment often includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

Medical Oncology: Most commonly this includes chometherapy, the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.

Radiation Oncology: Radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes. Radiation therapy may be given alone, or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

Surgical Oncology: Surgery may be necessary to remove the tumor, a section or the entire pancreas and often parts of other organs. The type of surgery depends on the stage of the cancer, the location and size of the tumor and the person's health.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Although symptoms don’t often appear until the cancer has spread, symptoms to look for include upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), loss of appetite, weight loss, depression and blood clots.

Who Is at Risk?

While anyone can develop pancreatic cancer, you are considered high risk if you are overweight or obese, African-American or if you have diabetes, chronic inflammation, a history of smoking or a family history of the disease or a genetic syndrome that can increase your chances of developing cancer.

While some risk factors are out of your control, you can take steps to lower your risk by quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and following a healthy, high-fiber and low-fat diet.