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Pancreatic Cancer Care

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas has two functions:

  1. It makes digestive enzymes, also called pancreatic juices. When the stomach sends partially digested food to the intestine, the pancreas releases the enzymes to mix with the food. This is the exocrine function.
  2. It makes hormones, mainly insulin and glucagon. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar. Glucagon acts to raise blood sugar. This is the endocrine function.

The pancreas has three regions:

  1. The head is near the upper intestine. It houses the main pancreatic duct that leads to the duodenum.
  2. The middle section makes up most of the pancreas.
  3. The tail section is next to the spleen.

Cancer occurs when previously normal cells begin to divide and grow quickly. Doctors classify pancreatic cancer according to the type of cells involved: exocrine or endocrine.

Learn about why you should choose UPMC for pancreatic cancer care.

How Common Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Doctors diagnose around 50,000 people a year with pancreatic cancer. Of these, 95 percent or more have exocrine pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma).

Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of the total cancer cases in the United States and about 7 percent of deaths.

The risk of a person getting pancreatic cancer at some point in their life is 1 in 64. Risk factors, ranging from genetics to preventable measures, can affect those odds.

Pancreatic Cancer Causes

No specific cause for pancreatic cancer is known, but many risk factors exist.

A family history of pancreatic cancer is one potential risk factor, but there are also behavior-related risk factors.

If you have a strong family history of pancreatic cancer, you may want to contact a genetic counselor for a screening.

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance of cancer development.

In general, men are more likely than women to get pancreatic cancer.

Age is also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer:

  • 90 percent of people are older than 55.
  • 70 percent are older than 65.

Genetic risk factors include a family history of pancreatic cancer or inherited conditions like:

  • Hereditary pancreatitis
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Individual risk factors can include:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

In some cases, people can change their habits to reduce or eliminate individual risk factors.

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Types of Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer can affect the exocrine or endocrine functions of the pancreas. There are also various types of cancer that can affect the pancreas.

Read about the types of pancreatic cancer.
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Pancreatic Cancer Screenings and Exams

You should think about getting screened if you:

  • Have a family history of pancreatic cancer.
  • Are a male over the age of 55.
  • Have diabetes and are over 50 years old.

Read more about pancreatic cancer screenings.
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Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Program

The Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Program creates individual plans to help each patient through diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.

Learn more about our Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Program.
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Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer

There are many treatment options for pancreatic cancer, including:

See pancreatic cancer treatment options at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.