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Pancreatic Cancer: Things to Know

The pancreas, located in the lower part of the stomach, is responsible for releasing enzymes that help with digestion. It also produces hormones that manage blood sugar levels (including insulin). This organ is around six inches long, resembles a pear, and can develop cancerous and non-cancerous tumors. Pancreatic cancer is unlikely to get detected at its early stages when it is most curable because symptoms mostly don’t appear until after it spreads to other organs.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

– unintended weight loss or loss of appetite

– fatigue

– blood clots

– light-colored stools

– itchy skin

– abdominal pain radiating to the back

– dark-colored urine

– jaundice (the eyes’ white part and the skin turn yellow)

– existing diabetes that’s hard to keep in check or a new diagnosis of diabetes


Although the cause of pancreatic cancer is still unknown, doctors have identified some factors that increase one’s risk of getting it.

Risk Factors

Factors that cause a higher risk of pancreatic cancer in individuals include:

– family history of the disease

– smoking

– older age (most people get diagnosed after 65)

– diabetes

– family history of genetic syndromes that increase the risk of cancer, including a BRCA2 gene mutation, familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome, and Lynch syndrome

– pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas)

– obesity

A research study showed that a combination of long-standing diabetes, smoking, and a poor diet amplifies the risk of getting pancreatic cancer more than any of these factors alone do.


Eat Healthy

A healthy diet comprising various fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help.


Smokers who are trying to reduce their risk of pancreatic cancer should discuss strategies, like nicotine replacement therapy, support groups, and medications, with their doctors to quit the habit.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

People who are at a healthy weight should work on maintaining it. When losing weight, the goal should be slow and steady weight loss (1-2 pounds or 0.5-1 kilograms a week).

Individuals who have a family history of pancreatic cancer should consider meeting with a genetic counselor to get their family health history reviewed and determine whether a genetic test may be beneficial in understanding the risk of pancreatic cancer or other cancers.