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Although pancreatic cancer affects far fewer people than other types of cancer, it’s still a leading cause of cancer death. You can take steps to reduce your overall risk of pancreatic cancer. By talking to your Mercy doctor as soon as you experience unusual pain, you can increase your chances of catching pancreatic cancer before it spreads to other parts of your body.
Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive form of digestive cancer. If cells within your pancreas begin to grow abnormally, they can form a cancerous tumor. According to the American Cancer Society, the average lifetime risk of someone developing pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 64.
Many people who have pancreatic cancer don’t show outward symptoms until their cancer has already spread beyond the pancreas. The sooner you begin treatment for pancreatic cancer, the greater your chances of survival.
There are two main types of cells within your pancreas: exocrine cells and endocrine cells. Each cell type can form its own type of cancer with its own risk factors, symptoms, diagnostic methods, treatments and therapies.
Exocrine cancer forms in the exocrine cells, which is where enzymes that help digest food are made. Exocrine pancreatic cancers make up about 95% of all cancers of the pancreas. There are many types including:
On rare occasions, pancreatic cancer can develop in the endocrine cells, which are responsible for making and releasing hormones into the bloodstream. This type of cancer is known as a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor or pancreatic NET. Pancreatic NETs are managed differently than exocrine pancreatic cancers. If you develop one of these tumors, your Mercy doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.
While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer isn’t known, cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on and off the genes that help cells grow, divide and stay alive. People can inherit certain gene mutations from their parents which increases their risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Men are slightly more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women. This may be due to higher tobacco use, which raises their risk. The risk of pancreatic cancer increases as we age. Nearly all patients of pancreatic cancer are older than age 45, and the average age of diagnosis is 70.
The risk of contracting pancreatic cancer is nearly two times as high among smokers compared to non-smokers. Nearly one-fourth of all pancreatic cancers are thought to be caused by tobacco use.
People who are obese or overweight are thought to be 20% more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Increased exposure to workplace chemicals, specifically used in dry cleaning or metalworking industries, may make a person more susceptible to pancreatic cancer. Gene mutations can develop as a result of exposure to these cancer-causing chemicals, and be passed down from generation to generation.
People who have a history of heavy alcohol or tobacco use may develop chronic pancreatitis, long-term inflammation of the pancreas, which carries with it an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Inherited gene mutations can pass from generation to generation. Some of these mutations cause as many as 10% of pancreatic cancers.
Signs of pancreatic cancer don’t usually develop until cancer has advanced, spreading to other parts of the body. The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer can vary depending on the type of pancreatic tumor present. See your Mercy doctor if you are experiencing symptoms that persist or don’t get better over time.
Exocrine pancreatic symptoms include:
Symptoms of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) can vary but may include:
If you’re experiencing symptoms of pancreatic cancer, it can be both physically and emotionally overwhelming. Mercy is here to help.
Learn about pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment options.
At Mercy, we offer comprehensive testing services to diagnose all types of pancreatic cancer, including:
At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of cancer treatment services, including: