What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer starts in the pancreas. The pancreas is located just behind the stomach. It helps digest food by making enzymes. The pancreas also makes hormones, such as insulin, to help balance blood sugar levels.
What increases my risk for pancreatic cancer?
- Cigarette smoking
- Long-term pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Heavy alcohol use
- Obesity or a high-fat diet
- A family history of long-term pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer
What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
- Abdominal or low back pain
- Weight loss without trying
- Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
- Fatigue and weakness
- Dark urine or light-colored bowel movements
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?
- An ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show the tumor. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tumor show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
- An endoscopy is a procedure where your healthcare provider uses a scope to check for a tumor. An endoscopic ultrasound uses sound waves to show your pancreas on a monitor. An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) may also be used to help open a narrow or blocked bile duct.
- A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of tissue from your pancreas. A biopsy may be done during an endoscopic ultrasound or ERCP, or with a needle. The tissue sample will be sent to a lab to be tested for cancer.
How is pancreatic cancer treated?
- Surgery is done to remove part or all of your pancreas and lymph nodes near your pancreas. It is most often done for tumors that have not spread to other parts of the body. The kind of surgery you need will depend on the size and location of the tumor.
- Chemotherapy is medicine that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumor before surgery.
- Radiation therapy uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat cancer. Radiation kills cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading. It also used to reduce symptoms, such as pain.
What can I do to manage my pancreatic cancer?
- Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for new or returning cancer. Smoking can also delay healing after treatment. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
- Eat small meals throughout the day. You may not feel hungry, but it is important that you eat. Proper nutrition can give you more energy, maintain your weight, and help you feel better. A dietitian can help you find ways to get enough protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals. Ask if you need to take a pancreatic enzyme supplement with meals to help with digestion.
- Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.
- Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks per day. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
- Exercise as directed. Exercise may increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.
Call 911 for any of the following:
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
- You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
- You cough up blood.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- You cannot control your pain, even after you take pain medicine.
- Your abdomen is bloated.
- You have diarrhea, light-colored or oily, foul-smelling bowel movements.
- You have new or worsening weight loss, jaundice, or back pain.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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