Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Tests For Pancreatic Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the pancreas and is one of the few cancers today that almost always results in a fatality. In pancreatic cancer, the symptoms become noticeable only after the condition has affected the body in a major way, thus reducing the chances of cure.

Tests Recommended

There are many different tests that the doctor can do in order to diagnose pancreatic cancer. The primary way to diagnose pancreatic cancer is through a detail medical history and a thorough medical examination. In this examination, the doctor will judge the risk the patient faces. Most of these tests are imaging test. Ultrasonography (ultrasound or US) is a common medical test done with the help of sound waves. Another test is computed tomography (CT, CAT) scan which scans images of the internal organs while a dye can be used to track progress. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is another specialty test used to detect pancreatic cancer. A dye is used in the pancreas to detect blocked bile ducts. And x ray and a biopsy confirm a pancreatic cancer.

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also used to detect pancreatic cancer. The somatostatin receptor scintigraphy or the Octreoscan can also be done. A hormone called octreotide, which is attached to radium 111, in injected. Once the dye is injected, four hours later, a camera is inserted to observe where radioactivity is spotted. This hormone attaches itself to pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, making it easier to detect the tumors.

Another kind of test used is a Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. The PET scan involves injecting glucose with radioactive substances. As cancer cells grow rapidly, they tend to absorb all additional sugar in the blood. This scan spots exocrine pancreatic tumors, something the other scans cannot detect. In most cases, once the tumor is spotted, a small portion is extracted for a biopsy. A biopsy confirms whether the cancer is malignant or benign. New research has made blood tests possible to detect pancreatic cancer in the early stages.


While there are no specific causes of pancreatic cancer, there are some indications that can provide insight into what causes pancreatic cancer. More than causes these are the risks for getting pancreatic cancer.

  • Pancreatic cancer largely occurs in males specifically those over the age of 55 years. Typically men who are overweight or have a history of obesity or lead a life that lacks physical activity are more susceptible to pancreatic cancer.
  • If your family has a history of pancreatic cancer, you stand a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer.
  • Lifestyle choices like tobacco use can also lead to a risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver increases your chances of getting pancreatic cancer.
  • Diabetes, which occurs due to a direct malfunction of the pancreas, is also a known result of pancreatic cancer. People who suffer from pancreatic cancer will also show intolerance for sugar or glucose. There is also research to suggest that newer diabetes drugs can increase you risk to pancreatic cancer.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals can cause genetic mutations which in turn are known to cause difference cancers including pancreatic cancers.


There a number of symptoms of pancreatic cancer that one can easily identify. However these symptoms need not always point out to the condition. Some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are as follows:

Jaundice is a very important symptom of pancreatic cancer. The face and the skin take on a yellow hue. This yellow hue is because of the high content of bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin collects in the body because the bile ducts in liver are blocked completely or partially with a tumor.

  • Abdominal pain or pain in the back
  • Constant fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Sometimes there are changes in the stool. The stools lose their color due to the bile that is not being processed by the body.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexpected onset of diabetes. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin in the body. When the pancreas gets cancer, it fails or decreases the production of insulin.

While these symptoms could also be general illnesses, it is necessary to check the root of the problem before it intensifies to major problems for the body.


Pancreatic cancer treatment is largely how most cancers are treated. First the tumor is identified; the biopsy confirms the type of tumor. Following this a surgery is done to remove as much of or all of the damaged tissue. Then the person is given some radiation therapy or chemotherapy depending on how serious the cancer was. Nowadays many research labs work towards finding new and less harmful. There is one such treatment called the ablative techniques. Clinical trials for these techniques are still underway but this form of treatment has shown some promise. The ablative techniques show signs of prolonging the life of the cancer patient by reducing the growth rate of the cancerous cells. In this form of treatment, different heat sources are used to kill cancer growth to avoid the infection from spreading to other organs.