Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer starts in your pancreas, an organ that makes digestive juices and hormones, including insulin. There are two main types of pancreatic cancers—those that start in the exocrine gland and those that start in the endocrine cells. Pancreatic cancer is a rare, but deadly disease. Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a mix of these. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • What causes pancreatic cancer?

      The causes of pancreatic cancer are unclear, but risk factors may include having a family history of pancreatic cancer or genetic syndromes linked to pancreatic cancer, diabetes, advanced gum disease, pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas), obesity, smoking, or heavy alcohol use. Risk also increases with age and almost all people are diagnosed after age 45.

    • What are the signs of pancreatic cancer?

      Symptoms may include painless jaundice, upper abdominal pain that radiates to the back, a hard lump in the upper abdomen, and the unexpected onset of diabetes. It can also include weight loss, loss of appetite, and sometimes depression.

    • Is pancreatic cancer curable?

      For early-stage cancers, surgery offers a chance to cure the disease. Unfortunately, only approximately 15% to 20% of people are candidates for surgery (for the remainder, the cancer has spread too far for surgery to improve survival).

    • Is pancreatic cancer hereditary?

      Familial risk accounts for 5 to 10% of pancreatic cancers, and inherited genetic syndromes account for 3 to 5%. Those with a first-degree family history of pancreatic cancer or genetic diseases and mutations, such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome caused by BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (polyps form in intestines), and hereditary pancreatitis, are considered high risk.

    The Stages of Pancreatic Cancer

    Explore interactive models that show how pancreatic cancer can progress in the body, and what changes each stage of the condition refers to.

    Key Terms

    Page Sources
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    3. National Cancer Institute. Surgery. Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. Updated July 15, 2019.

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    5. National Cancer Institute. Adenocarcinoma. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.

    6. American Cancer Society. Surgery for pancreatic cancer. Updated February 11, 2019.