Pancreatic cancer: what you need to know

Who is most at risk for pancreatic cancer?

People who are at greatest risk are those with chronic pancreatitis and certain genetic syndromes, such as:

  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, caused by mutations in the gene BRCA2
  • Familial pancreatitis, caused by mutations in the gene PRSS1
  • Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome

Also at risk are smokers, diabetics and obese people.

What can people do to reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer?

You can reduce your risk by changing certain habits, i.e. stopping smoking or losing weight.

What are the most common symptoms?

Some patients present with “painless jaundice” and the symptoms associated with jaundice. Others present with upper abdominal or back pain, difficulty eating or digesting food, weight loss, poor appetite or gallbladder problems.

Neuroendocrine tumors can present with hormonal problems causing ulcer disease, symptoms of low blood glucose and diarrhea.

If diagnosed early, what are the chances that a patient could make a full recovery?

The prognosis depends exactly on which type of pancreatic cancer and pathology. It can vary from curative surgery to less than 10 percent chance of survival.

Are there any new and innovative treatments for this type of cancer?

There are new chemotherapy options for pancreatic cancer as well as new, less invasive surgical techniques. 

What do you tell patients upon diagnosis with pancreatic cancer?

I tell them that we need to work together as a team to help them through the treatments that they need.  This type of cancer involves many types of doctors and specialists at a cancer center.

What can patients expect if they opt for surgery to remove the pancreas?

Patients can expect to be well-informed about the details of the surgery, why it is being done, what the risks are and how we work together to minimize the risks, improve recovery and return to a normal state of health. 

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Pancreatic cancer: what you need to know