Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas releases enzymes that aid digestion and produce hormones that help manage your blood sugar.
The pancreas is a 6-inch long organ located behind the stomach in the back of the abdomen, near the gall bladder.
It contains glands that create pancreatic juices, hormones, and insulin.
Cancer can affect either the endocrine or the exocrine glands in the pancreas.
The exocrine glands produce juices, or enzymes, that enter the intestines and help digest fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. These makeup most of the pancreas.
The endocrine glands are small clusters of cells known as the islets of Langerhans. They release the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. There, they manage blood sugar levels. When they are not working properly, the result is often diabetes.
The type of cancer and the outlook for each depends on which function cancer affects.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. They may include:
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Light-colored stools
- Dark-colored urine
- Itchy skin
- New diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that’s becoming more difficult to control
- Blood clots
Causes of Pancreatic Cancer
It’s not clear what causes pancreatic cancer. Doctors have identified some factors that may increase the risk of this type of cancer, including smoking and having certain inherited gene mutations.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you experience any unexplained symptoms that worry you. Many other conditions can cause these symptoms, so your doctor may check for these conditions as well as for pancreatic cancer.
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