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Pancreatic Cancer

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is a small, tapered gland located deep in the abdomen, behind the stomach and below the liver. The pancreas is made up of two main types of cells: exocrine cells, which make enzymes that aid digestion, and endocrine cells, which produce hormones, including insulin and glucagon, that help regulate blood sugar levels.

Pancreatic cancer develops when abnormal cells begin to multiply uncontrollably, forming a mass or tumor. The vast majority of pancreatic cancer begins in the exocrine cells and rarely arises in endocrine cells.

Risk Factors

Though the precise causes of pancreatic cancer are not known, the disease is associated with a number of risk factors, including:

  • Environmental factors, such as smoking and alcohol abuse

  • Family history of pancreatic cancer

  • Hereditary conditions, including multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome, hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, or familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome

  • Personal history of diabetes or chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)


In the early stages, pancreatic cancer usually does not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Change in bathroom habits — Urine may be dark, or diarrhea or light-colored or very foul-smelling stools may be present.

  • Digestive problems — Indigestion, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting can develop.

  • Fatigue — Sufferers may experience persistent weakness or tiredness.

  • Jaundice — The skin and whites of the eyes may yellow.

  • Pain — Pain is usually localized to the middle or upper abdomen or back.

  • Unexplained weight loss — Weight loss will occur even without diet or exercise.

Treatment Options

Treatment options depend on the type and stage of pancreatic cancer and may include:

  • Chemotherapy — Oral, injected or infused anti-cancer drugs may be used to shrink tumors before or after surgery, or to help kill cancer cells when surgery is not an option.

  • Surgery — All or part of the diseased organ or tumor may be surgically removed.

  • Precision therapies — Targeted therapy drugs pinpoint molecular weaknesses in cancer cells, while immunotherapy stimulates the body’s immune system to seek out and kill cancer cells.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of pancreatic cancer, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.

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