Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

By: Tori Bowlin

November 10, 2023

Doctor and patient discussing treatment options

We asked Randy Zuckerman, MD, of the William N. Pennington Cancer Institute, to shed light on the complexities of pancreatic cancer.

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

How Does Pancreatic Cancer Occur?
The pancreas, a pear-shaped organ located next to the stomach, plays a crucial role in our body. It releases hormones like insulin to process sugar and produces digestive juices. Pancreatic cancer arises when mutations in the DNA of pancreatic cells lead to uncontrolled growth and tumor formation. This cancer can spread rapidly to nearby organs and blood vessels without treatment.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

What Are the Signs of Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is often called a "silent" disease because its early symptoms can be subtle and easily overlooked. However, there are warning signs to watch out for.

  • Unexplained weight loss, especially when coupled with jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), can be an early indicator. Persistent pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back, another common symptom, is sometimes mistaken for other conditions.
  • Sudden onset of diabetes, changes in stool consistency and color, and digestive issues, such as loss of appetite or a feeling of fullness after only a small meal, can also signal the disease.
  • Itchy skin and dark urine warrant a medical consultation. It's crucial to consult a healthcare provider if these symptoms persist, as early detection can significantly impact treatment outcomes.

Causes and Risk Factors

Are the Causes of Pancreatic Cancer Known?
While the exact causes remain unclear, certain factors increase the risk. Smoking, for instance, can double the risk. Other contributing factors include obesity, poor diet, age, and family history.

Treatment Options

How is Pancreatic Cancer Treated?
After confirming a diagnosis through imaging techniques like ultrasound, CT scans, PET scans, or MRI, treatment options may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these methods.

Is There a Screening Test?

When discussing pancreatic cancer screening, it's important to note that, unlike breast and colon cancers, there isn't a recommended routine screening for individuals who are not at increased risk of developing this type of cancer. The American Cancer Society highlights that current screening tests haven't demonstrated a reduction in mortality risk from pancreatic cancer, which is why a general screening routine is not in place.


    • Previous Article

    Navigating Renown's Cancer Care Resources: Your Essential Guide

    Cancer is challenging, but no one has to go through it alone. Patients and their loved ones can navigate the journey towards healing and recovery with the proper support and resources from Renown Health. When faced with a cancer diagnosis,...
    Read More
    • Next Article

    20 Years of Compassion and Dedication

    When you meet Poeth Kilonzo, Director of Oncology Nursing at Renown Health, you are immediately greeted with a warm smile that puts your mind at ease. Within the William N. Pennington Cancer Institute , Poeth enjoys a strong reputation...
    Read More