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What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer usually does not cause symptoms early on. The cancer may grow for some time before it causes pressure in the abdomen, pain, or other problems.
In many cases, the cancer has spread outside the pancreas by the time it is found.
When symptoms appear, they depend on the location and size of the tumor. If the tumor blocks the common bile duct so that bile cannot pass into the intestines, the skin and whites of the eyes may become yellow, and urine may become dark. This condition is called jaundice. Pain often develops in the upper abdomen and sometimes spreads to the back. Cancer of the pancreas can also cause nausea, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, and weakness. These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other less serious problems. Only a doctor can correctly diagnose the cause of the symptoms.
A service of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), PDQ is a computer system that gives up-to-date information on cancer and its prevention, detection, treatment, and supportive care - for people with cancer and their families & friends, and for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. To ensure that it remains current, the information in PDQ is reviewed and updated each month by experts in the fields of cancer treatment, prevention, screening, and supportive care. PDQ also provides information about research on new treatments (clinical trials), doctors who treat cancer, and hospitals with cancer programs.
The pancreas is about 6 inches long and is shaped something like a thin pear, wider at one end and narrowing at the other. The pancreas lies behind the stomach, inside a loop formed by part of the small intestine. The broader right end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow left end is the tail.
The pancreas has two basic jobs in the body. It produces juices that help break down (digest) food, and hormones (such as insulin) that regulate how the body stores and uses food. The area of the pancreas that produces digestive juices is called the exocrine pancreas. About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine pancreas.
The pancreas is a small organ, approximately six inches long, located in the upper abdomen, and connected to the small intestine. It is posterior in the body, against the spine, and it is this deep location that at times makes diagnosis of the disease difficult. The pancreas is essential to the digestive process in two ways: first, it produces enzymes that help digest protein, fat and carbohydrates before they can be absorbed through the intestine; second, it makes islands of endocrine cells that produce insulin which regulate the use and storage of the body's main energy source, glucose or sugar.
Pancreatic cancer is the number 4 leading cancer killer.
Over 33,000 people in the U.S. and over 188,000 people worldwide will die of pancreatic cancer this year. By the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, it is usually too late for a promising outcome. The average life expectancy after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 3 to 6 months.
While pancreatic cancer survival rates have been improving from decade to decade, the disease is still considered largely incurable.
According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 5%. These low survival rates are attributable to the fact that fewer than 10% of patients' tumors are confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis; in most cases, the malignancy has already progressed to the point where surgical removal is impossible. Even for those with local disease (has not spread) the 5-year relative survival rate is only 16%.
To learn about clinical trials and/or get a list of current clinical trials,
call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service toll free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)
or visit the NCI clinical trials website for patients (cancertrials.nci.nih.gov) or healthcare professionals (cancernet.nci.nih.gov/prot/protsrch.shtml).
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
1211 22nd Ave S
Nashville, TN 37232
Sloan Kettering has a program for you to make a gift in memory of a friend or loved one, or to honor someone who is fighting cancer. Others have made important contributions as a way of recognizing those who are making a difference in the lives of cancer patients, such as a physician or nurse. A gift may be designated for any occasion -- a birthday, anniversary, or holiday -- or used to express appreciation or love.
You may also make donations for specific areas of research. Look on their site for "Make a Gift" - OR
Send a donation to:Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
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You may want to contact the Dream Foundation at (805) 564-2131 or at http://www.dreamfoundation.org/requesting.html.
They assist adults with life-threatening diseases.
People can also help the foundation in their efforts. Check here.
Financial issues often become overwhelming. Take action.
Your local newspaper or TV station may want to do a human interest story on pancreatic cancer involving the town's practicing oncologist speaking about the devastating effects of this disease and the need for greater public attention. The piece/article could also incorporate your current situation as a patient living with pancreatic cancer.
The journalist could mention that money is needed for you to be able to travel to a particular medical center for treatment or that money is needed to help defray costs. A trust account can be set up at a local bank where donations from interested townspeople can be made. We see these stories all the time. There is no reason for you to avoid this option.
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This page was updated January 2008.
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