Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer showing on a full body diagram

Facts and figures about pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK. The incidence in men and women is approximately the same, giving a male to female ratio of 1:1. Age related with approximately 96% of cases being diagnosed in those aged 50+ years and approximately 50% of all cases in the 75+ years age group.

Risk factors are not well known but about 30% may be linked to tobacco smoking. Some medical conditions such as hereditary pancreatitis, stomach ulcers, helicobacter pylon infection and diabetes increase the risk. 95% of tumours are adenocarcinomas arising from the exocrine pancreas; the others arise in the endocrine pancreas but are very rare.

Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late as symptoms can be vague.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms

  • Pain and/or swelling of the abdomen.
  • Back pain.
  • Jaundice.
  • Tiredness.
  • Weight loss.

Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Investigations may include:

  • Physical examination.
  • Blood tests.
  • Ultrasound scan of pancreas and liver.
  • CT scan.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound- tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.
  • MRI scan.
  • Laparoscopy- tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.

Pancreatic cancer treatment

Depends on several factors:

  • The size of the tumour.
  • The position of the tumour within the pancreas.
  • The stage of the cancer.
  • General health.

Surgery

Surgery may be used in early stage disease to remove part or all of the pancreas and possibly other organs such as the gall bladder, duodenum and part of the stomach. This may cure the disease but it is long and complicated surgery and only feasible for those fit enough for surgery with small localised tumours. In some more advanced cases bypass surgery may be performed to relieve symptoms such as jaundice and sickness caused by a blockage of the bile duct or duodenum.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be prescribed after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. In cases of locally advanced (unresectable) disease, it may be used to shrink the tumour, control the disease and relieve symptoms.

Occasionally chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used in combination (chemoradiation) for this purpose.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is not used very often in pancreatic cancer. It can be used to shrink the tumour to help relieve symptoms, possibly in combination with chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy, pain killers and nerve blocks may be used on their own or in combination to control any pain.

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