"Working in Partnership to support the Commissioning
 and Delivery of High Quality Cancer Care in Essex"
NHS Essex Cancer Network

Pancreatic Cancer

About

Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland that's part of the digestive system.

Around half of all new cases are diagnosed in people aged 75 or over. It's uncommon in people under 40 years of age.

This page covers:

Symptoms

Causes

Diagnosis

Treatment

Recovering from surgery

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

In the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas doesn't usually cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose.

It's important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions, and aren't usually the result of cancer. But you should contact your GP if you're concerned, or if these symptoms start suddenly.

The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often:

  • pain in the back or stomach area – which may come and go at first and is often worse when you lie down or after you've eaten
  • unexpected weight loss
  • jaundice – the most obvious sign is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; it also causes your urine to be dark yellow or orange and your stools (faeces) to be pale-coloured

Other possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • bowel changes
  • fever and shivering
  • indigestion
  • blood clots

You may also develop symptoms of diabetes if you have pancreatic cancer, because it can produce chemicals that interfere with the normal effect of insulin.

Endocrine pancreatic cancer

There are also a number of different endocrine tumours that cause different symptoms, depending on the hormone the tumour produces.

Cancer Research UK has more information on symptoms of endocrine pancreatic tumours.

Causes of pancreatic cancer

It's not fully understood what causes pancreatic cancer, but a number of risk factors for developing the condition have been identified.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

  • age – it mainly affects people who are 50-80 years of age 
  • smoking – around one in three cases is associated with using cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco
  • having a history of certain health conditions – such as diabetes, chronic pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas), stomach ulcer and Helicobacter pylori infection (a stomach infection)

In about 1 in 10 cases, pancreatic cancer is inherited from a person's parents. Certain genes also increase your chances of getting pancreatitis, which in turn increases your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas.

Cancer Research UK has more information on:

Diagnosing pancreatic cancer

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 either:

Depending on the results of a scan, further tests may include:

  • an endoluminal ultrasonography (EUS) endoscopy – a type of endoscopy which allows close-up ultrasound pictures to be taken of your pancreas 
  • an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – a type of endoscopy which is used to inject a special dye into your bile and pancreatic ducts; the dye will show up on an X-ray and highlight any tumours
  • laparoscopy – a surgical procedure that allows the surgeon to see inside your body using a laparoscopy (a thin, flexible microscope)

biopsy, where a small sample is taken from a suspected tumour, may also be carried out during these procedures.

NICE guidelines

In 2015, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines to help GPs recognise the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer and refer people for the right tests faster.

To find out if you should be referred for further tests for suspected pancreatic cancer, read the NICE 2015 guidelines on Suspected Cancer: Recognition and Referral.

Treating pancreatic cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is difficult to treat. It rarely causes any symptoms in the early stages, so it's often not detected until the cancer is fairly advanced. If the tumour is large, treating the cancer will be more difficult.

If you've been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your treatment will depend on the type and location of your cancer, and how far it's advanced. Your age, general health and personal preferences will also be taken into consideration.

The first aim will be to completely remove the tumour and any other cancerous cells. If this isn't possible, treatment will focus on preventing the tumour growing and causing further harm to your body.

The three main treatments for pancreatic cancer are:

Some types of pancreatic cancer only require one form of treatment, whereas others may require two types of treatment or a combination of all three.

Read more about treating pancreatic cancer.

Recovering from surgery

Recovering from pancreatic cancer surgery can be a long and difficult process.

You'll probably experience some pain after your operation. The staff at your hospital will make sure you have adequate pain relief.

After any type of surgery to your digestive system, your bowel will temporarily stop working. This means you won't be able to eat or drink straight away.

You'll gradually be able to sip fluids, before eventually being able to drink and eat more regularly. You may be referred to a dietitian, who can advise you about what foods you should eat following your operation.

After the tumour has been removed, you'll probably have a six-month course of chemotherapy, which greatly increases your chance of being cured. But because cancer of the pancreas is difficult to diagnose and treat, many people don't recover completely.

Treatment can be very effective in helping to ease symptoms and make you as comfortable as possible. Chemotherapy can help shrink your tumour and slow down its growth.

Further information on pancreatic cancer

Information Prescription Service

To access the Information Prescription Service and the national cancer information pathway for pancreatic cancer please click on the link below. Then click on 'Specialist information from our charity partners'

www.nhs.uk

Macmillan Cancer Support Website

www.macmillan.org.uk

Cancer Research UK Website

www.cancerresearchuk.org

Further Information

Visit or phone a local cancer information centre

There are several cancer information and support centres in Essex Cancer Network where anyone affected by cancer can be sure of a warm welcome and high quality, accurate, evidence-based information:

Basildon Hospital Macmillan Info and Support Centre, Outpatients Dept, Basildon Hospital, staffed Monday 2pm - Friday 12.30pm,tel: 0845 155 3111 extension 4908

Macmillan Info and Support Centre,Essex County Hospital, Outpatients Dept, Monday - Friday office hours, tel: 01206 747474

Information Resource Service, St Luke's House, Corringham,Thurrock, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01375 648170

Lantern Suite, Farleigh Hospice,Chelmsford, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01245 457418

Hospice Outreach Project Information Bus, Farleigh Hospice, covers the Chelmsford area. Contact Farleigh Hospice as above

For more information, please contact the service direct.

 

Visit your local library in Essex Cancer Network

Essex, Southend and Thurrock library services have worked in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Essex Cancer Network to establish collections of quality assured information books and pamphlets about cancer. These can be accessed at any library: just ask. Additionally some staff at libraries have been trained to help patients use the Information Prescription Service.

Contact Macmillan Cancer Support Helplines

If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am - 8pm (interpretation service available) tel: 0808 808 0000

For financial queries tel: 0808 808 2232

 

Remember: Stay safe online when looking for support!

Internet chat rooms and message forums can be valuable sources of support and comfort, enabling you to meet others in the same position. However, there is potential for abuse - please read these guidelines before you set off to explore...

Click here to download the draft guidelines

 

You are here:

Explore The Network

© Essex Cancer Network, 2011  |  Swift House, Hedgerows Business Park, Colchester Road, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 5PF  |  Tel. 01245 397626

Powered by Sitekit CMS