Pancreatic Cancer

You have learned that you have pancreatic cancer, but may not be very familiar with the pancreas and its function. Your care team at Atlanta Liver & Pancreas Surgical Specialists is here to help you every step of the way.

Pancreatic Cancer Overview

The term pancreatic cancer is commonly used to mean any tumor in the pancreas. There are, however, many diseases that cause tumors in the pancreas that are not pancreatic cancer.

The pancreas, located in the abdomen, has two primary functions. It makes:

  • Enzymes that help break down the food you eat. 
  • Hormones such as insulin that regulate your body’s management of sugar and other substances. 

Pancreatic cancer comes from the ducts that carry pancreatic enzymes from cells of the pancreas to aid digestion. Another type of pancreatic cancer is more correctly termed neuroendocrine tumor or neuroendocrine carcinoma. Treatments and outcomes differ significantly for pancreatic cancer and neuroendocrine tumors.

Signs & Symptoms

The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen. This can make early detection and diagnosis difficult. Typically, early cancer of the pancreas does not show signs or symptoms unless it is near the bile duct and causes jaundice. That’s why it’s important to check with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Pain or swelling in upper or middle abdomen and back 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fatigue or weakness 
  • Dark-colored urine 
  • Light-colored stools 
  •  Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Nausea or vomiting

Risk Factors

The following can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer:

  • Heavy alcohol use can cause pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and significantly increase the risk for pancreatic cancer. 
  • Cigarette smoking, using smokeless tobacco and vaping; pancreatic cancer is very often a “smoker’s cancer.” *
  • You are very overweight or obese
  • You have a personal history of diabetes or chronic pancreatitis
  • You have a family history of pancreatic cancer.
  •  You have certain genetic conditions such as BRCA and others.

Prevention

There are things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer:

  • Do not smoke, vape or use any tobacco products. Quit if you do! *
  • Stay at a healthy weight. 
  •  Limit alcohol consumption. 
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Manage your diabetes well. 
  • Talk to a genetic counselor if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer. 
  • Talk to your doctor about screening; organized pancreatic cancer screening programs are available for certain patients, which may lead to early diagnosis. 

*IMPORTANT: It is NEVER too late to quit smoking! The Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Built To Quit - Smoking and Tobacco Cessation Course can help you quit any form of tobacco use! Please call us at 404.780.7653 or email smokingcessation@northside.com.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Treatment for pancreatic cancer often includes chemotherapy and sometimes includes surgery and/or radiotherapy. Treatment and outcomes have advanced dramatically in recent years, with effective chemotherapy, immunotherapy, genetic variation in tumors and patients, and advances in surgery, including robotic resection. Your treatment and outcomes will depend on the type of pancreatic cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

Pancreatic Cancer Survival

With proper surgery, the latest chemotherapy and integrated treatment, survival rates have improved dramatically for early-stage pancreatic cancer that has not spread (metastasized). For patients with localized disease to the pancreas who complete surgery and optimal treatment, the five-year survival may exceed 40%. Although survival for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer is improving, it is a more complex condition than localized, resectable (removable by surgery) pancreatic cancer.

At Atlanta Liver & Pancreas Surgical Specialists we also treat disorders causing pancreatic tumors (pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or tumors that have spread to the pancreas from other organs).

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