Pancreatic CANCER

Around 10,300 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year. It is the 10th most common cancer in the UK. More than 45% of patients that get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 75 and it is rarely found in patients under 40.

The pancreas is a gland in the top part of your tummy that helps you digest your food and makes hormones, such as insulin. Pancreatic cancer is when abnormal cells in the pancreas start to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way and forms a growth (tumour).

Types of Pancreatic Cancer

Not all pancreatic cancer is the same. The type of cancer depends on where about in the pancreas the cancer starts some of which are more common than others.

  • Exocrine pancreatic cancer – start in cells that produce pancreatic digestive juices.
    • Adenocarcinomas
    • Cystic tumours
    • Cancer in the acinar cells
  • Endocrine pancreatic cancer (aka pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETS)) –start where insulin and other hormones are made and released into the bloodstream.
  • Pancreatoblastoma – rare tumours that mainly occur in children
  • Sarcomas of the pancreas – extremely rare cancer of the connective tissue of the pancreas Lymphoma – a tumour that develops in the lymphatic system that runs through the pancreas.

More information can be found here

Causes of Pancreatic Cancer

Doctors don’t know what causes most pancreatic cancers. However your risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases:

  • As you get older
  • If you smoke
  • If you are overweight or obese
  • If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer
  • A history of long term inflammation of the pancreas
  • If you have diabetes
  • If you have gallstones
  • If you are a woman with metabolic syndrome
  • If you have chronic pancreatitis (generally caused by long term heavy drinking of alcohol)
  • If you are exposed to high energy radiation

Symptoms Of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer may not have any symptoms, or they might be hard to spot. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:

  • the whites of your eyes or your skin turn yellow (jaundice), you may also have itchy skin, darker pee and paler poo than usual
  • loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
  • feeling tired or having no energy
  • a high temperature, or feeling hot or shivery

Other symptoms can affect your digestion, such as:

  • feeling or being sick
  • diarrhoea or constipation, or other changes in your poo
  • pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, which may feel worse when you are eating or lying down and better when you lean forward
  • symptoms of indigestion, such as feeling bloated

If you have another condition like irritable bowel syndrome you may get symptoms like these regularly.

You might find you get used to them. But it’s important to be checked by a GP if your symptoms change, get worse, or do not feel normal for you.

Treating Pancreatic Cancer

The treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on:

  • where the cancer is
  • how far it has grown or spread (the stage)
  • the type of cancer
  • how abnormal the cells look under a microscope (the grade)
  • the patients general health and level of fitness

Treatment may include surgery or chemotherapy.

What To Do if you think you have Pancreatic CAncer?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms for a prolonged period of time, please contact your GP at your earliest convenience to be examined. Do not delay.

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Things to remember

Pancreatic cancer is not always preventable but making healthy changes to your lifestyle can lower your risk.

  • try to lose weight if you are overweight.  Read more
  • cut down on how much red and processed meat (such as ham, bacon and salami) you eat.
  • try to cut down on alcohol – avoid drinking more than 14 units a week. Read More
  • try to quit smoking. Read more.