Pancreatic cancer – Causes, symptoms and treatment

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What is the pancreas? 

The pancreas is a large gland and organ located in the abdomen. It plays an important role in the digestive system. The pancreas produces enzymes that help the body to convert food into energy.   

The pancreas performs two main functions, the exocrine function digests the food, and the endocrine function regulates blood sugar levels by secreting a peptide hormone named insulin.

What is Cancer?

Cancer – an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancer develops in any part of the body and affect people of all age groups. It is a deadly disease because it can spread to other parts of the body. Thus, damaging the nearby organs and causing severe health complications.

What are the types of Pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cancer cells grow in the pancreatic tissues.  

The types of Pancreatic cancer are classified by the type of cells or the tissues where the cancer cell growth occurs. The following are the types of Pancreatic cancer.

Adenocarcinoma cancer is a common type of Pancreatic cancer. In adenocarcinoma, cell development occurs in the gland or inner tissues that line the pancreas.

Acinar cell carcinoma is the condition where cancer can develop from the cells that create pancreatic enzymes.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a rare type of Pancreatic cancer. Here, cancer growth starts in squamous cells, which regulate the release of hormones.

What causes Pancreatic cancer? 

The cause of cancer is quite unclear, despite the type of cancer. Thus, it is hard to define the cause of Pancreatic cancer.

The healthy cells in the body grow in moderate numbers and die once completing their task. Certain abnormal cells continue their living, thereby creating a mass of cells causing cancer. However, some factors also contribute to inducing the growth of cancer cells.

For Pancreatic cancer, the risk factors may cover the following:

  • Smoking and tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes (especially type 2 diabetes)
  • Hereditary
  • Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas caused by smoking and alcohol)
  • Unnoticed pancreas infection

What are the symptoms of Pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer does not leave any symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms follow when it develops into further stages. However, body changes and other symptoms can indicate the concern for medical treatment.

For Pancreatic cancer, pay attention to the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Indigestion
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Change in urine colour (dark or brown colour)
  • Blood clots
  • Itchy skin
  • Gallbladder or liver enlargement

All the above-mentioned symptoms are common for both men and women with Pancreatic cancer.  

What are the stages of Pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer stages involve four stages; the stages are characterized to help in diagnosis and treatment and to indicate the growth of cancer cells or how far it has spread.

Stage1: The cells get located in the pancreas and start their growth.

Stage2: The cancer cells either spread or affect the nearby organs and tissues, causing health complications.

Stage3: The cancer cells affect the surrounding blood cells and lymph nodes.

Stage4: Cancer spreads to other organs like the liver or abdominal cavity.  

Make sure to consult a doctor to get Pancreatic cancer treated in the early stages.

How is Pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

If you have the symptoms, immediately consult a doctor. The following test will be required for the diagnosis:

An imagery test will be a great help to visualize the internal organs. With the images produced by X-rays, CT scans and MRI, it becomes easy to detect the location, size and severity of the cancer cells.

An endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) aids to take images of the pancreas. A device (thin, flexible tube with a camera at the tip) is passed through the mouth and processed further into the pancreas. The ultrasound provides an image of the pancreas, which helps to diagnose the stage and severity of Pancreatic cancer.

A biopsy is a procedure to remove small tissues from the pancreas for further diagnosis. Most of the time, the biopsy is done during endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) by using a special tool to collect the sample.  

What are the treatments for Pancreatic cancer?

Age, current health condition, severity and health complication are the factors that determine the treatment.

The treatment option includes the following:

Surgical treatment involves the removal of the cancerous portion of the pancreas. During the removal, the surrounding affected lymph nodes are also removed to avoid recurring cancer.  

Distal pancreatectomy is the surgery process where the cancer-affected part of the pancreas is removed. In a total pancreatectomy, the whole pancreas is removed. Surgery to remove the pancreas is rare.  

Without the pancreas, the body finds it difficult to maintain blood sugar levels; in such cases, medication can help to regulate it.

Whipple procedure where the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas along with the affected lymph nodes, duodenum and other tissues if the cancer cells are developed in the head of the pancreas.

Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells through radiation like x-rays. Radiation therapy helps to kill, reduce and remove cancer

The chemotherapy method uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The processes involve the intake of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells or to stop them from spreading.


The symptoms of Pancreatic cancer are diagnosed only during the late stages. Do not wait for symptoms. When you find even a small amount of imbalance in the body, consult your doctor.  

Stopping cancer in its initial stage is the better option. The only way to protect or prevent cancer growth is to go for a regular medical check-up and follow a healthy diet.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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