Pancreatic cancer is the toughest cancer to diagnose, treat and survive. One in four people won’t survive for a month. Three in four won’t survive for a year. In the UK, 24 people die from pancreatic cancer every day.
On World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day supporters and pancreatic cancer charities across the world are coming together to put a spotlight on the disease to ensure it gets the recognition it deserves.
The pancreas is a large gland that is part of the digestive system. Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas.
The most common type of pancreatic cancer is known as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Other, rarer types of pancreatic cancer may be treated differently. We discuss the most common form.
In the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas doesn't usually cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose. The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often:
Other possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
Of course, it's important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions and aren't usually the result of cancer.
However, you should contact your GP if you're concerned, or if these symptoms start suddenly.
You may also develop symptoms of diabetes if you have pancreatic cancer. This is because the tumour can stop the pancreas producing insulin as it normally would.
It's not fully understood what causes pancreatic cancer, but a number of risk factors for developing the condition have been identified. These include (but are not limited to):
Your GP will first ask about your general health and carry out a physical examination. They may examine your tummy abdomen for a lump and to see whether your liver is enlarged. They'll also check your skin and eyes for signs of jaundice and may request a urine sample and blood test.
If your GP suspects pancreatic cancer, you'll usually be referred to a specialist at a hospital for further investigation. You may have an ultrasound scan, a CT scan, an MRI scan, a PET scan or PET-CT scan.
Depending on the results of the scan, further tests may be undertaken.
The three main treatments for pancreatic cancer are: