is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form
in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas
secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones
that help regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most serious of
all cancers. It develops when malignant cells form
in the tissues of your pancreas - a large organ that
lies horizontally behind the lower part of your
Although pancreatic cancer
it's the fourth leading cause of all cancer deaths.
That's because pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly and
is seldom detected in its early stages. Symptoms
such as yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
(jaundice), abdominal pain and unexplained weight
loss may not appear until the disease is quite
advanced. By that time, the cancer is likely to have
spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body and
surgical removal is no longer possible.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don't occur until the
disease is advanced. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
pain that may radiate to your middle or upper back.
About three-fourths of people with advanced pancreatic cancer
experience abdominal pain when a tumor presses on surrounding organs
and nerves. Pain may be constant or intermittent and is often worse
after eating or when lying down. Because many conditions other than
cancer can cause abdominal pain, it's important to discuss your
symptoms carefully with your doctor.
appetite and significant weight loss.
Unintended weight loss is common in pancreatic cancer. Weight loss
occurs in most types of cancer because malignant cells deprive
healthy cells of nutrients. But the problem is compounded in
pancreatic cancer, which often affects your ability to digest and
absorb what you eat.
your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice).
Half of all people with pancreatic cancer develop jaundice, which
occurs when bilirubin, a breakdown product of worn-out blood cells,
accumulates in your blood. Normally, bilirubin is eliminated in
bile, a fluid produced in your liver. But if a pancreatic tumor
blocks the flow of bile, excess pigment from bilirubin may turn your
skin and the whites of your eyes yellow. In addition, your urine may
be dark brown and your stools white or clay-colored. Although
jaundice is a common sign of pancreatic cancer, it's more likely to
result from other conditions, such as gallstones or hepatitis.
In the later stages of pancreatic cancer, you may develop severe
itching when high levels of bile acids, another component of bile,
accumulate in your skin.
In advanced cases of pancreatic cancer, the tumor may block a
portion of your digestive tract, usually the upper portion of your
small intestine (duodenum), causing nausea and vomiting.
When cancer prevents pancreatic enzymes from being released into
your intestine, you're likely to have a hard time digesting foods —
especially those high in fat. Eventually, this may lead to weight
loss — as much as 25 pounds or more — and malnutrition.
Although most depression is not the result of pancreatic cancer,
severe depression sometimes may be the first symptom of this