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Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant cells develop in part of the pancreas. This may affect how the pancreas works.  The pancreas is a gland that sits deep within the abdomen between the stomach and spine. It is about 15cm long and is shaped a little like a leaf. It has two main functions - to produce enzymes for digestion and hormones that control blood-sugar levels. The pancreas is described as having three parts, the head, body and tail.

Have I got any signs of pancreatic cancer?

Early-stage pancreatic cancer rarely causes symptoms.

  • pain in the abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss
  • change in bowel habit with diarrhoea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying
  • jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes, and dark urine)
  • severe back pain
  • onset of diabetes

Am I at risk of pancreatic cancer?

  • smoking
  • age - most cases occur in adults over the age of 60
  • diabetes, particularly newly diagnosed diabetes
  • a family history of pancreatic, ovarian or colon cancer.  A high risk individual has at least 2 first degree relatives with pancreatic cancer
  • chronic pancreatitis
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • obesity.

How will I get tested?

Your GP may refer you for

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan
  • Tissue sampling tests

Imaging and tissue sampling tests are used to determine the stage of the cancer.

What happens next?

Your GP will refer you to a Specialist. Your specialist will discuss further investigations and treatment options.

  • Surgery
  • Endoscopic treatment
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Symptom management
Last updated: 3 June 2021