Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells arise within the pancreas gland.
The pancreas, an organ that is located behind the stomach, has two functions. It secretes enzymes into the small intestine that aid in digestion (exocrine function), and it produces the hormones insulin and glucagon, which are released into the bloodstream to help regulate blood sugar (endocrine function).
Adenocarcinoma, the most common form of pancreatic cancer, arises from the exocrine cells.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include pain in the upper abdomen, poor appetite, weight loss, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
Jaundice occurs from obstruction of the bile duct (the tube that drains the liver and gallbladder into the intestine) as it travels though the pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer is suggested when a mass is seen in the pancreas on an imaging study such as an ultrasound, CT Scan, or MRI. The diagnosis is confirmed by obtaining a tissue biopsy. This can be achieved by a radiologist passing a needle though the skin using CT Scan guidance, by a gastroenterologist during ERCP or Endoscopic Ultrasound (see description under Our Services).
Treatment consists of surgery to remove the cancerous growth or chemotherapy/radiation therapy to shrink the cancer. If surgery is not an option, a stent (plastic or metal tube) can be passed through the narrowing of the bile duct to relieve obstruction and jaundice.
Most patients with pancreatic cancer have a poor prognosis and less than 5% are living at five years after diagnosis.