Pancreatic cancer starts in the tissues of the pancreas, a gland located behind the stomach that produces enzymes that aid in digestion and produce hormones key to the processing of sugar (glucose) in the foods we eat.
Somewhat uncommon, pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the United State. Often eluding early detection, the disease can exhibit aggressive growth that makes it one of the more life-threatening of GI cancers.
Smoking, obesity, alcohol, diabetes and family history are some of the pancreatic cancer causes and risks . Advanced age is also an influence, with the majority of cases occurring in people over age 65. Pancreatic cancer affects men more than women and is more prevalent among African Americans.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
Most pancreatic cancer symptoms don't appear until an advanced stage. Symptoms may include:
- upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
- jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
- unexplained weight loss
- blood clots
Your gastroenterologist will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam if pancreatic cancer symptoms occur. Blood tests may be ordered to check for certain proteins (tumor markers) indicative of pancreatic cancer cells. You may need to undergo imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT and MRI scans. Endoscopy may be recommended to visualize the pancreas and obtain a biopsy to accurately diagnose your condition. Advanced GI tests include endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment
At NorthShore, we take a collaborative approach to treating pancreatic cancer. Through the programs and services of the Kellogg Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary team of specialists meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized cancer treatment plan. Patients have as part of their Kellogg team, highly-skilled endoscopists who are board-certified gastroenterologists with special training in using sophisticated technology to treat benign and malignant tumors of the GI and liver tract.
Both the severity, or stage, and location of the pancreatic cancer usually dictate treatment. If the cancer is limited to the pancreas itself, surgery to remove the organ may be recommended. Advanced stages of the disease may require a combination of treatment options including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
At NorthShore, we are pioneers in advancing care for pancreatic cancer through a dedicated Pancreas Research Program. Through our studies, we can offer a number of promising clinical trials to patients everywhere. Our clinical pancreatic cancer database is one of the largest in the country.
For More Information
For more information on pancreatic cancer causes, symptoms and treatment, or to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.