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Pancreatic Cancer

Also called exocrine cancer, pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices.

The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not known, but research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop pancreatic cancer. These risk factors are age, smoking, diabetes, being male, being African American, family history, and chronic pancreatitis. Other studies have shown that exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace or a diet high in fat may increase the chance of getting pancreatic cancer.

Early pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms and is often called silent disease. As the cancer grows the symptoms may include pain in the upper abdomen or upper back, yellow skin and eyes, dark urine, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and weight loss. If a patient has symptoms that suggest pancreatic cancer the physician will ask about the patient’s medical history, perform a physical exam, and order lab tests. Other tests that may be done consist of CT scan, ultrasound, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography, and biopsy. The biopsy is used to remove tissue from the tumor for a pathologist to look under a microscope for cancer cells to confirm diagnosis.

When pancreatic cancer is diagnosed the doctor needs to know the extent or stage of the disease to help plan treatment so additional tests may be ordered. Such tests may include blood tests, CT scan, ultrasound, laparoscopy, or angiography. Tests results help your physician decide which treatment is appropriate for you. Cancer of the pancreas is very hard to control with current treatments so for this reason many doctors encourage patients to consider taking part in a clinical trial. Other treatment options for pancreatic cancer are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. A treatment plan that is best for you will be decided upon by you and your healthcare team.

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