What is Pancreatic Cancer? The Signs and Risks


Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer with few early symptoms. Dr. Christos Galanopoulos of the Renown Institute for Cancer explains the symptoms and risk factors.

According to American Cancer Society’s estimates, about 53,670 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. The average lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer for both men and women is about 1 in 65 (1.5 percent), but the odds can be increased with certain risk factors. We asked Christos Galanopoulos, MD, vice president and chief clinical officer of the Renown Institute for Cancer, to explain more.

How does pancreatic cancer occur?

The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen next to the stomach. It’s about six inches long and looks something like a pear lying on its side. It releases hormones, including insulin, to help your body process sugar in the foods you eat. It also produces juices to help digest food.

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in your pancreas develop mutations in their DNA. These mutations cause cells to grow uncontrollably and form a tumor. Untreated pancreatic cancer spreads to nearby organs and blood vessels.

What are the signs that someone may have pancreatic cancer?

If you are experiencing persistent fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice or unexplained weight loss, you should see your doctor. All of these symptoms could be caused by other conditions, so it’s a good idea to consult a physician to rule out the possibility of pancreatic cancer. The onset of diabetes also can indicate possible pancreatic cancer and would be checked as someone is receiving treatment for diabetes.


Are the causes of pancreatic cancer known?

As with many cancers, the exact causes are not known, but smoking is one factor known to double a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer. Other factors that may contribute to the risk of pancreatic cancer include being overweight, having a poor diet, age and family history.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Once a diagnosis is confirmed — usually through diagnostic imaging such as ultrasound, CT scan, PET scan or MRI — treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these.

To learn more about the Renown Institute for Cancer, visit renown.org/cancer or call 775-982-4000.