Definition

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.

Pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed early. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it's a leading cause of cancer death. Signs and symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and complete surgical removal isn't possible.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don't occur until the disease is advanced. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to your back
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Blood clots

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you experience unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, jaundice, or other signs and symptoms that bother you. Many diseases and conditions other than cancer may cause similar signs and symptoms, so yourdoctor may check for these conditions as well as for pancreatic cancer.

Causes

It's not clear what causes pancreatic cancer.

Understanding your pancreas

Your pancreas is about 6 inches (about 15 centimeters) long and looks something like a pear lying on its side. The pancreas secretes hormones, including insulin, to help your body process sugar in the foods you eat. And it produces digestive juices to help your body digest food.

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