Pancreatic Cancer

You Don’t Have to Face Pancreatic Cancer Alone

What is a pancreas

When it comes to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, patients, families, and doctors make the treatment journey together at Methodist Dallas. Independently practicing physicians -- including surgeons, oncologists, gastroenterologists and pathologists – work together with nurse navigators, patients, and families to provide care for patients with this most challenging form of cancer. Our renowned specialists have made Methodist Dallas a destination for advanced diagnostic and treatment services, attracting patients from throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Texas, neighboring states and even further.

Pancreatic Cancer – An Overview and Symptoms

What is the pancreas?

When it comes to anatomy, the pancreas is not one of those organs that take center stage. However, the small pear-shaped, spongy organ, which resides next to the stomach and intestine, does its fair share of pumping hormones and enzymes that help us digest food.

What does the pancreas do?

The pancreas has two jobs:

  1. The pancreas makes enzymes that are sent into your intestines to help break down fats and other food.
  2. The pancreas produces insulin, which controls the level of sugar in the blood. Lack of insulin causes diabetes.

The pancreas is in contact with very important veins and arteries as well as other organs. All of these have to be considered when operating on the pancreas.

Methodist Pancreatic SurgeryWhat is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a result of abnormal cell growth that disrupts the endocrine system. The endocrine system is composed of glands that secrete hormones (chemicals that regulate other body parts) directly into the bloodstream. Rather than developing into healthy, normal pancreas tissue, these abnormal cells multiply and form lumps, called tumors. Tumor cells fight their way into other organs and interfere with operations of the pancreas.

According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, more than 95% of pancreatic cancers are:

  • Adenocarcinoma, tumors of the lining of the pancreatic duct– or exocrine tumors – or which start in the cells that make pancreatic enzymes that help in digestion.

5% of pancreatic tumors are

  • Neuroendocrine tumors, also called endocrine or islet cell tumors

Other types of pancreatic cancer are:

  • Cystadenocarcinoma – a rare pancreatic cancer
  • Acinar cell carcinoma – a rare pancreatic cancer

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Signs or symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin, caused by an increase in the level of bilirubin. About half of all people with pancreatic cancer, and those with ampullary cancer, may get jaundice.
  • Abdominal or back pain may occur in advanced pancreatic cancer. Cancers that start in the body, or tail, of the pancreas squeeze and compress other nearby organs, causing pain. The cancer may also spread to the nerves surrounding the pancreas, leading to back pain.
  • Unintended or unexpected weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Enlarged abdomen from swollen gallbladder
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale, greasy stools
  • Diabetes (exocrine cancers of the pancreas may be linked to diabetes or high blood sugar, because they destroy the insulin-making cells.)

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may be similar to those of other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Are there risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Some genetic syndromes

Learn more about pancreatic cancer

Visit these websites for more information about pancreatic cancer:

American Cancer Society
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Contact the Pancreatic Cancer Program at Methodist Dallas

For more information about pancreatic cancer treatment options and pancreatic cancer resources at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, call 214-933-6601.

The cancer program at Methodist Dallas was one of three in Texas to earn the 2016 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.

Information contained on these pages has been gathered from independent sources and is for informational use only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice and information provided by your health care provider. Any decision you make regarding your health care options should be made after consulting a qualified physician.

American Cancer Society
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Staywell Health Library