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Quick Facts

Pancreatic Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Mar 2021| Content last modified Mar 2021
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Your pancreas is an organ in the upper part of your belly that makes digestive juices. Your pancreas also releases insulin and other hormones that help control your blood sugar.

Locating the Pancreas

Locating the Pancreas

What is pancreatic cancer?

Cancer is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells are the tiny building blocks of your body. Cells specialize in what they do. Different organs are made of different kinds of cells. Almost any kind of cell can become cancerous. 

Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in your pancreas.

  • Symptoms include belly pain, weight loss, and throwing up

  • Pancreatic cancer has often spread before it's diagnosed

  • Surgery may cure pancreatic cancer before it spreads

  • Once pancreatic cancer has spread, it's rarely cured

What causes pancreatic cancer?

You have a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer if you:

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it has spread. Then, your symptoms may include:

  • Severe upper belly pain, which you might also feel in the middle of your back—it may feel better when you lean forward or curl up

  • Weight loss

  • Jaundice (yellow-colored skin and a yellow color to the white parts of your eyes)

  • Bloating or diarrhea

Many people with pancreatic cancer also get diabetes because their pancreas can't produce enough insulin.

How can doctors tell if I have pancreatic cancer?

Doctors look for pancreatic cancer using:

  • CT scan of the abdomen (belly)

  • MRCP (a special kind of MRI that looks at your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, or pancreatic duct)

  • MRI

  • Blood tests

  • Biopsy (which involves taking out part of the tissue to look at under a microscope)

  • Surgery

How do doctors treat pancreatic cancer?

If doctors don’t think the cancer has spread, they may do:

If the cancer has spread, surgery doesn't help. If it has spread only to nearby tissues, doctors may give you chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If the cancer has spread widely, doctors treat your symptoms to try to make you more comfortable. Treatment for symptoms includes:

  • Pain medicines or shots

  • Enzymes to replace digestive juices

  • Insulin if you get diabetes

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