What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer (pancreatic carcinoma) is one of the types of cancer with the lowest survival rate. The earlier the disease is discovered, the better the chances of recovery. FITBOOK knows what symptoms may indicate pancreatic cancer, how it is treated, and what the prognosis is for patients.

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant disease of the tissue of the pancreas. The vital endocrine organ is located behind the stomach and plays an essential role in the production of digestive enzymes. In addition, the organ produces the hormones glucagon and insulin, which are responsible for the metabolism of sugar. Due to the hidden location of the pancreas, diagnosis is often only made at a later stage, which is also due to the fact that symptoms only appear when pancreatic cancer is very advanced.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer, even in advanced stages, are nonspecific and often very subtle. As a result, they are often first associated with other, less life-threatening health conditions. Signs of pancreatic cancer can include:one

  • unwanted weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • Threw up
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • greasy, light-colored stools
  • abdominal and back pain
  • Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • skin itch
  • Fatigue, reduced performance
  • depressions

Because the pancreas produces the hormones insulin and glucagon that regulate blood sugar, pancreatic cancer can disrupt normal blood sugar levels. In some cases, this can lead to the development of diabetes or worsen an existing condition.

What are the causes behind the disease?

Pancreatic cancer is caused by mutations in DNA. Healthy cells grow and die in small numbers. When there is a mutation in the cells of the pancreas, abnormal cells begin to grow in the pancreas and form tumors. The abnormal cells gradually crowd out the healthy ones and, in the worst cases, spread to other organs. The exact cause behind the development of pancreatic cancer is not yet known. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk of developing the disease. These are:two

  • Of smoking. Smoking both active and passive increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 70 percent.3
  • Excessive alcohol consumption. If you drink too much alcohol, the pancreas can become (chronically) inflamed, which can promote the development of cancer.
  • chronic or inherited Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
  • nutrition. An unhealthy diet with too much red and processed meat, fried foods, sugar, or fatty foods can also increase your risk.
  • over weight. Being overweight or obese has also been linked to increased risk.
  • diabetes.
  • age. People over the age of 65 are diagnosed more often than younger people.
  • genes. If there is a family history of pancreatic cancer, as well as certain genetic syndromes such as Lynch syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS), or atypical mole malignancy syndrome (FAMMM), the risk of developing the disease is potentially higher . Likewise, an increased risk of inherited breast and ovarian cancer is associated with the development of pancreatic cancer.

Above all, the combination of different risk factors, such as smoking together with diabetes and a genetic predisposition, greatly increases the risk of suffering from the disease.

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What types of pancreatic cancer are there?

There are two types of pancreatic cancer based on the type of cell in which the cancer develops:

  • adenocarcinoma either exocrine pancreatic carcinoma refers to the type of pancreatic cancer that begins in the cells of the organ that line the ducts of the pancreas.
  • When neuroendocrine tumors, Pancreatic islet cell tumors either endocrine cancer These are cancers that develop in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas.

Neuroendocrine tumors of the pancreas are less common and interfere with hormone production, disrupting all metabolic processes in the body.4

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

The earlier the disease is discovered, the better the chances of recovery. Consequently, it is important to consult a doctor at the first symptoms that could indicate pancreatic cancer. Especially if you have a genetic predisposition and/or one or more risk factors. After a detailed medical history, the doctor may perform one or more tests that can provide further clarity, such as:

  • a CT scan or MRI to get an image of the pancreas
  • an endoscopic ultrasound, which uses a small camera inserted into the stomach to take pictures of the pancreas
  • Blood tests that can rule out tumor markers
  • a biopsy of the pancreas

In the unfortunate event that a doctor diagnoses pancreatic cancer, more tests are usually done to show the stage of the disease.

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What treatment options are there?

The goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to destroy the cancer cells and stop them from spreading (further). Depending on how advanced the disease is, the following treatment options are possible:

  • one Surgery, in which the affected parts of the pancreas are removed. However, this form of treatment is only an option if the cancer has not yet spread.
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • immunotherapywhich uses various methods for the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • in a targeted cancer therapy Medications are used to specifically stop tumor growth.

Your treating doctor may also choose a combination of different treatment options. In the worst cases, when the cancer has progressed so far that treatment is no longer promising, therapy focuses on relieving pain.5

How common is pancreatic cancer?

In 2018, around 19,020 people in Germany developed pancreatic cancer. Most of these patients died from the disease because the diagnosis was very late in most cases and the associated poor prognosis. According to the Robert Koch Institute, the 5-year relative survival rate, calculated using the period method for 2017 and 2018, is only ten percent.6

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What about prevention through diet and lifestyle?

To keep the risk of pancreatic disease as small as possible, you should maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat well. That means, on the one hand, regular exercise, not smoking, and drinking little or no alcohol. On the other hand, eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grain products and avoid red and industrially processed meats, fried foods and foods with a high sugar content.

If you have symptoms that could indicate pancreatic cancer, you should of course see your doctor. This can remove your worries and create clarity. Anyone who knows that they are genetically predisposed should pay special attention to a healthy lifestyle, avoid risk factors and regularly visit a specialist for check-ups.


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