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Pancreatic Cancer

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most severe types of cancer. The pancreatic survival rate is unfortunately quite low -- the one-year survival rate is only 20 percent, while the five-year rate is 4 percent.

One of the reasons pancreatic cancer is so fatal is because it is difficult to diagnose. Pancreatic cancer symptoms can be difficult to spot, as the pancreas is located in a difficult area -- in front of the spine and buried deep in the belly area. By the time symptoms are discovered, the cancer has often already spread.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

One of the most concrete symptoms that could indicate pancreatic cancer is tenderness and pain when pressing on the area around the pancreas, but this only occurs once a tumor has grown large enough to trigger a response in the nerves.

Additional symptoms may include nausea and unusual weight loss, jaundice and appetite loss. Again, these typically occur once the tumor has grown larger and is impacting other areas of the body, such as the intestines or bile ducts.

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

Of all cancers, pancreatic cancer is one of the few that has limited if any unique risk factors. Age is considered a risk, as most people diagnosed with the condition are over 60, and there may also be genetic syndromes associated with a higher risk (though this has not been proven). Heredity isn't considered to be a factor in the risk for cancer of the pancreas, though it is certainly worth including in your medical history.

Risk factors associated with other cancers, such as diabetes, tobacco use and obesity, are also loosely tied to pancreatic cancer. Prior conditions, such as Hepatitis B, pancreatic cysts and pancreatitis, may also play a role.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

In its early stages, pancreatic cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the tainted area of the pancreas or the whole thing. A "Whipple" procedure is one of the most common forms of treatment for pancreatic cancer -- the technical term being pancreatoduodenectomy. In this surgery, part of the stomach, the duodenum, the pancreas, bile ducts, lymph nodes and gallbladder are removed.

Follow-up treatment, after the Whipple procedure, may include chemotherapy or radiation to help prevent the cancer from returning.

Late stage pancreatic cancer is often untreatable, as the tumors may be too far-spread in the pancreas or may have metastasized to other areas.

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