Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. It makes hormones and juices that help the body break down food. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and happens when cells in the pancreas become abnormal and grow out of control.

Pancreatic cancer programs at Texas Health bring together specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer, including doctors and surgeons on the medical staff, dieticians, and genetic specialists, who can diagnose and manage all stages of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreas illustration

Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a “silent disease.” Some people may not have specific symptoms or may not have any symptoms at all. When the cancer grows, one or more of these symptoms may appear:

  • Sudden pancreatitis not caused by alcohol or gallstones
  • New-onset diabetes, especially in people aged 50 or older
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Stomach pain that may go toward your back
  • Nausea, vomiting and constipation
  • Feeling tired
  • Blood clot in the leg without a specific risk factor
  • Lesions found on imaging tests

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

  • Smoking: The most common risk factor. People who smoke have about twice the risk compared to non-smokers. Smokeless tobacco also increases risk.
  • Diet: Eating too much red and processed meat
  • Lifestyle: Drinking too much alcohol
  • Family History & Conditions: Having a family history of pancreatic cancer and certain hereditary conditions (Lynch syndrome, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations)
  • Diabetes: Long term type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Long term pancreatitis
  • Heavy exposure to certain pesticides, dyes and chemicals used in metal refining

Diagnosis and Testing


Screening
Early detection for people with a strong family history of pancreatic cancer and hereditary conditions should be referred to a genetic counselor or cancer specialist for genetic testing.

Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed by:

  • Laboratory tests such as Tumor markers- CA-19-9. This is often high in pancreatic cancer.
  • Imaging studies that show information about the pancreas and surrounding tissues, such as:
  • ­CT imaging
  • ­MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • ­MRCP (Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography)
  • ­ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography)
  • ­EUS (Endoscopic Ultrasound) and Biopsy

Treatment


Treatment depends on:

  • The location of the tumor
  • If the cancer has spread
  • Your age and general health

Specific treatments may include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy

Pancreatic Cancer Programs

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