Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer (pancreatic carcinoma) is a fairly rare form of cancer. It usually affects people aged over 60 and men develop the disease more frequently than women. For a long time, pancreatic cancer has very few or only non-specific symptoms. The disease is often detected when it has already reached an advanced stage. The treatment depends on how far the cancer has progressed and could involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The pancreas produces digestive juices for the small intestine and insulin for regulating the metabolism of sugar. The organ is situated in the upper abdominal area and cannot be felt from outside the body. Pancreatic cancer is a fairly rare form of cancer and accounts for around 3% of all cancer diagnoses. The disease primarily affects older people. Men are at a greater risk of suffering from pancreatic cancer than women. The exact causes of the disease are unknown. In addition to advanced age, other risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic pancreatic inflammation, excess body weight and a genetic predisposition for the disease.

In its early stages, pancreatic cancer exhibits very few or non-specific symptoms. As a result, the disease is unfortunately often discovered when it has already reached an advanced stage. Loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, diarrhoea and tiredness can be signs of pancreatic cancer. If the cancer causes pain, it is usually a diffuse belt-like pain around the upper abdomen. An initial indication of pancreatic cancer is often jaundice, which is a painless condition that makes the skin and eyes appear yellow. However, in such cases the cancer is usually already quite advanced.

Various radiological and endoscopic examinations are used to diagnose pancreatic carcinomas. Ultrasound examinations, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) generate images of the pancreas and other organs in the upper abdominal area. A gastroscopy can be performed to examine the pancreatic ducts.

The main form of treatment for pancreatic cancer is the surgical removal of the tumour. Given that pancreatic cancer is usually discovered at an advanced stage, it is often necessary to remove not only the pancreas, but also the duodenum, gallbladder and part of the bile ducts. You can find out more about this operation in the pancreatic surgery section.

To improve the chances that the surgery is successful, the operation is usually followed by chemotherapy and sometimes by radiotherapy.