What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It’s shaped a bit like a fish with a wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. In adults it’s about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen (belly), behind where the stomach meets the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The body of the pancreas is behind the stomach, and the tail of the pancreas is on the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.

Pancreatic cancer arises when cells in the pancreas begin to multiply out of control and form a mass. These cancerous cells have the ability to invade other parts of the body. There are a number of types of pancreatic cancer. The most common, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, accounts for about 85% of cases. These adenocarcinomas start within the part of the pancreas which makes digestive enzymes. Several other types of cancer, which collectively represent the majority of the non-adenocarcinomas like neuroendocrine tumors, can also arise from these cells.

According to latest reports pancreatic cancers of all types resulted in 411,600 deaths globally. Pancreatic cancer is the eleventh most common cancer in the world. The disease occurs most often in the developed world, where about 70% of the new cases in 2012 originated. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma typically has a very poor prognosis: after diagnosis, 25% of people survive one year and 5% live for five years. For cancers diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate rises to about 20%. Neuroendocrine cancers have better outcomes.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include yellow skin, abdominal or back pain, unexplained weight loss, light-colored stools, dark urine and loss of appetite.

 Pancreatic cancer rarely occurs before the age of 40, and more than half of cases of pancreatic adenocarcinoma occur in those over 70. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include tobacco smoking, obesity, diabetes, and certain rare genetic conditions. About 25% of cases are linked to smoking, and 5–10% are linked to inherited genes.

The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is lower among non-smokers, and people who maintain a healthy weight and limit their consumption of red or processed meat. A smoker’s chance of developing the disease decreases if they stop smoking, and almost returns to that of the rest of the population after 20 years.

Pancreatic cancer can be treated with surgery, radiotherapy ,chemotherapy , palliative care, or a combination of these. Treatment options are based on the cancer stage.