Pancreatic cancer: symptoms and treatment

A large proportion of cancer deaths are due to pancreatic cancer. This is because this form of cancer is usually only discovered when it is too late. Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than in women, and black people are more likely to develop the disease than white people. Complaints that may occur with pancreatic cancer are abdominal pain, back pain, weight loss, jaundice, and ‘white’ stools. It is not yet known exactly what causes this form of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer

  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Symptoms of pancreatic cancer
  • Factors that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer diagnosis
  • Pancreatic cancer treatment

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer mortality. Pancreatic cancer is often only discovered when it is too late. Complaints often only occur when the disease is already advanced. A tumor cannot be felt during physical examination because the pancreas is located deep in the abdomen, behind other organs. Pancreatic cancer occurs more often in men than in women. People of the black race have a greater chance of developing this form of cancer than people of the white race. The majority (95 percent) of all cases of pancreatic cancer are adenocarcinoma. It originates in the inner lining of the pancreatic ducts and can grow there unnoticed for years.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

  • Stomach ache
  • Weight loss
  • General poor well-being
  • Backache
  • Jaundice (icterus)
  • Putty colored stools

The symptoms that arise depend on the location in the pancreas where the tumor arises. If it is in the head, it can close the external bile duct. The stool becomes white in color because the bile can no longer enter the small intestine. The skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow (jaundice). If the tumor is in the body or tail of the pancreas, you often experience back pain.

Factors that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer

  • Smoking
  • Familial predisposition
  • Age. Most people are between 60 and 80 years old when they develop the disease.
  • Sex. Men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women
  • Ethnic background. The disease is more common in people with black skin color.
  • Alcohol. It is thought that frequent alcohol consumption may have an influence. This is not 100% proven.
  • Chronic pancreatitis. Some people who suffer from chronic pancreatitis develop pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer diagnosis

The diagnosis can be made by carrying out the following examinations;

  • Ultrasound
  • Laparoscopy
  • CT-scan
  • MRI

If there is a strong suspicion that pancreatic cancer is present, tissue will be removed for further microscopic examination by means of:

  • Ultrasound guided needle biopsy
  • ERCP (with an endoscope)

Pancreatic cancer treatment

  • Surgical removal of the pancreas. If the tumor is only in the pancreas, it can be cured. The operation is difficult and there is a risk of death due to the serious procedure.
  • Radiation and chemotherapy. This is purely to extend lifespan, healing does not take place.
  • Placing an endoprosthesis (stent). If the tumor cannot be removed, a tube is sometimes placed in the bile ducts, which reduces the jaundice.

read more

  • Cancer diagnosis: What next?
  • Alcohol use: facts and figures
  • Alcohol consumption: How much is still healthy?