Pancreatic Cancer Facts

Source: American Cancer Society, Inc.
Pancreatic cancer begins when cells in the pancreas start to grow uncontrollably. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It is shaped a bit like a fish with a wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. In adults it is 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.
The exocrine cells and endocrine cells of the pancreas form different types of tumors. It’s very important to distinguish between exocrine and endocrine cancers of the pancreas. They have distinct risk factors and causes, have different signs and symptoms, are diagnosed with different tests, are treated in different ways, and have different outlooks.
  • About 53,670 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

  • About 43,090 people  will die of pancreatic cancer.

  • The 5-year survival rate is now 9%, moving up from 8%.

  • Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the US and about 7% of cancer deaths.

  • Pancreatic cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. killing more people than breast cancer.

  • Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer (most often a Whipple procedure) is a long and complex operation that can be hard both for the surgeon and the patient. It often requires a long hospital stay, at least in part because of the long incision made in the belly.

  • Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer death largely because there are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible.

  • Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments.

  • Recent tests are looking to see if groups of proteins found in the blood might be used to find pancreatic cancer early, when it is likely to be easier to treat.

It's important to have honest, open discussions with your cancer care team.  Consider these questions:

  • What kind of pancreatic cancer do I have?
  • Has my cancer spread beyond where it started? What stage?
  • Will I need to see other doctors?
  • If I'm concerned about the costs & insurance coverage for my diagnosis & treatment, who can help me?
  • What are my treatment choices?
  • How much experience do you have with this cancer?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • How soon should I start treatment?

Unchangeable Risk Factors

Changeable Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Family history
  • Inherited genetic syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Stomach problems
  • Tobacco use
  • Overweight & obesity
  • Workplace exposure to certain chemicals

Consider these while making treatment decisions:

Factors with unclear affect on risk

  • Your age & expected life span
  • Any other serious health conditions you have
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Whether or not surgery can remove the cancer
  • The likelihood that treatment will cure the cancer
  • Your feelings about the possible side effects from treatment
  • Diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
Jaundice & related symptoms
Nausea & vomiting

Signs & symptoms of pancreatic cancer:

Weight loss & poor appetite
Belly or back pain
Gallbladder or liver enlargement
Blood clots
Fatty tissue abnormalities