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Pancreatic Cancer

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Cancer of the pancreas is abnormal cell growth in the tissue of the pancreas. The pancreas is a small organ (about six inches long) located next to the small intestine, behind the stomach.

The majority of pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are tumors that arise from the exocrine portion of the pancreas. The exocrine portion of the pancreas produces digestive fluids. A small number of pancreatic cancers begin in the endocrine pancreas. The endocrine portion produces hormones (such as insulin).

What does the Pancreas Do?

The pancreas produces juices and enzymes to help with digesting and absorbing food. The pancreas also produces and releases several hormones, such as insulin, which regulate the way your body stores and processes food. For more information on insulin related conditions, see diabetes.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Someone with pancreatic cancer in the early stages of the disease may have no symptoms. Each individual may not experience all symptoms. The most common symptom is abdominal discomfort. The abdominal discomfort may be worse after eating or when lying down and sometimes can be relieved by sitting up or leaning forward.

Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer are:

  • jaundice
  • nausea
  • itching
  • loss of appetite
  • brown urine
  • light colored bowel movements
  • unexpected weight loss
  • pain in the upper or middle sections of the abdomen.

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin. Jaundice occurs because tumors in the upper portion of the pancreas have blocked the outflow of bile from the liver and the bile ducts into the intestine. This causes bilirubin, an orange/yellow colored pigment, to build up in the body.

Can Pancreatic cancer be prevented?

Unfortunately, here is no known method of preventing pancreatic cancer.

Methods of Treatment

Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the most common treatments for Pancreatic Cancer.

Surgery may be performed to remove part or all of the pancreas, and any surrounding tissue that has become cancerous.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells.

Effects of Treatment


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