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Pancreatic cancer

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on December 7, 2021.

An estimated 60,430 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021, according to the American Cancer Society. Adults may develop pancreatic cancer at any age, but most pancreatic cancer patients are older than 65. The five-year relative survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 10 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. However, many factors affect survival, including age, overall health, cancer stage, cancer type and treatment.

No pancreatic cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our multidisciplinary team of cancer experts works with each pancreatic cancer patient to develop a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan that fits his or her specific diagnosis and needs. Treatments for cancer of the pancreas may involve minimally invasive gastroenterology techniques, chemotherapy and/or interventional radiology. Typically, treatment plans depend on the type and stage of the cancer, and the patient’s personal needs and preferences.

This overview will cover the basic facts about pancreatic cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of pancreatic cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion for pancreatic cancer at CTCA, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

Causes and risk factors for pancreatic cancer

Chris P - Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Chris P.

Pancreatic Cancer

"For more than two years, I returned to CTCA every month for five to six days at a time. I received chemotherapy intravenously and took advantage of all the supportive care services CTCA offered."

MORE ABOUT CHRIS

More About CHRIS

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause early symptoms, but signs of the disease include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes; accompanied by dark urine, light-colored or greasy stools, or itchy skin)
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gallbladder or liver enlargement
  • Blood clots
  • Diabetes

Learn more about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Stages of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer types

The most common kind of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, starts in the exocrine cells of the pancreas. Exocrine cells help make and transport enzymes to digest food. About 95 percent of exocrine pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinoma, according to the ACS.

Less common types of exocrine pancreatic cancer are:

  • Acinar cell carcinoma
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Colloid carcinoma
  • Giant cell tumor
  • Hepatoid carcinoma
  • Pancreatoblastoma
  • Serous cystadenoma
  • Signet ring cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Undifferentiated carcinoma

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, also called islet cell tumors, start in the endocrine (or hormone-producing) cells of the pancreas. They’re very rare, making up less than 2 percent of pancreatic cancer cases, according to the ACS.

They can be functioning, which means they make hormones, or nonfunctioning, which means they don’t make hormones. When functioning, they’re named for the hormones they make, so they may be called:

Other growths that have the possibility of becoming pancreatic cancer are:

  • Serous cystic neoplasms
  • Mucinous cystic neoplasms or mucinous cystadenomas
  • Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms
  • Solid pseudopapillary neoplasms

Learn more about the types of pancreatic cancer

Diagnosing pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer treatment options

After a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, patients need to discuss treatment options and goals with a care team.

Standard treatment options for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor or to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life
  • Chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing, affecting the whole body
  • Radiation therapy, via X-rays targeted at a specific place in the body, to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing
  • Targeted therapy substances to find and attack specific cancer cells

These treatments may be used alone or together. A patient’s options depend on the stage of pancreatic cancer and factors, including age and other health conditions.

Clinical trials are regularly testing new state-of-the-art treatments, and may be an option at any point in the cancer treatment regimen. It’s important to discuss this option with your doctors.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends that all patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer consider genetic testing, which may indicate a hereditary predisposition to cancer. Knowing whether a patient has DNA mutations may help doctors better tailor treatments. It also may encourage family members to get tested.

Learn more about treatment options for pancreatic cancer

Diagnosis and treatment options at our CTCA GI Cancer Centers

GI Cancer Center

CTCA Atlanta

GI Cancer Center

GI Cancer Center

CTCA Chicago

GI Cancer Center

GI Cancer Center

CTCA Phoenix

GI Cancer Program

Supportive care

Supportive care clinicians help cancer patients maintain their physical, emotional and spiritual wellness before, during and after cancer treatment. That’s important because cancer of the pancreas and relative treatments may cause side effects, such as a decreased ability by the body to digest and absorb nutrients, discomfort after eating and fatigue. Supportive care therapies for these patients may include:

nutrition

​Nutritional support

Every patient has the option of meeting with a registered dietitian.

accupuncture

​Pain management

Pain management is a branch of medicine focused on reducing pain and improving quality of life through an integrative approach to care.

mind_body

Behavioral health

​Our behavioral health support program is designed to support you and your caregivers before, during and after cancer treatment.

Learn more