The pancreas is one of the endocrine glands in the body that is involved in the digestive system. It can be found in the abdomen behind the stomach. It has important functions as it produces hormones such as insulin, glucagon, pancreatic polypeptide, and somatostatin. Pancreatic juice is also secreted to neutralize acidity of partly digested food that is moving in from the stomach. Pancreatic cancer occurs when pancreatic cells multiply forming a mass. These cells may invade other parts of the body (either surrounding areas or through blood). The commonest type of pancreatic cancer is the pancreatic adenocarcinoma which occurs in 85% of cases.
The risk factors of pancreatic cancer include increased age, male gender, smoking, obesity, family history, chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, food such as processed meat, and alcohol. The symptoms do not usually occur in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. Diagnosis can be confirmed through medical imaging such as computed tomography (CT) scan, fine needle aspiration biopsy, and liver function tests. Treatment includes surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and in advanced cases, palliative care.
Symptom #1: Pain
In pancreatic cancer, there can be pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back. The location can worsen at night and gradually increase to become much more severe and persistent. Many patients find that the pain can be slightly relieved by leaning forwards.
Pancreatic cancer usually has very few symptoms in early stages and can be incidentally found in emergency department visits for abdominal pain. In 67% of patients with pancreatic cancer, abdominal pain is the main symptom with another 46% accompanied by jaundice.