Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. This also can be referred to as exocrine cancer.
Estimated new cases and deaths from pancreatic cancer in the United States each year:
- New cases: 37,170
- Deaths: 33,370
Pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a "silent disease" because early pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen or upper back
- Yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine from jaundice
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
People with pancreatic cancer may have several treatment options. Depending on the type and stage, pancreatic cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Some patients have a combination of therapies.
Surgery may be used alone or in combination with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
The surgeon may remove all or part of the pancreas. The extent of surgery depends on the location and size of the tumor, the stage of the disease, and the patient's general health.
- Whipple procedure: If the tumor is in the head (the widest part) of the pancreas, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas and part of the small intestine, bile duct, and stomach. The surgeon may also remove other nearby tissues.
- Distal pancreatectomy: The surgeon removes the body and tail of the pancreas if the tumor is in either of these parts. The surgeon also removes the spleen.
- Total pancreatectomy: The surgeon removes the entire pancreas, part of the small intestine, a portion of the stomach, the common bile duct, the gallbladder, the spleen, and nearby lymph nodes.
Sometimes the cancer cannot be completely removed. But if the tumor is blocking the common bile duct or duodenum, the surgeon can create a bypass. A bypass allows fluids to flow through the digestive tract. It can help relieve jaundice and pain resulting from a blockage.
The doctor sometimes can relieve blockage without doing bypass surgery. The doctor uses an endoscope to place a stent in the blocked area. A stent is a tiny plastic or metal mesh tube that helps keep the duct or duodenum open.
After surgery, some patients are fed liquids intravenously (by IV) and through feeding tubes placed into the abdomen. Patients slowly return to eating solid foods by mouth. A few weeks after surgery, the feeding tubes are removed.