The pancreas is a large gland located in your upper abdomen, just below your ribs, and is a vital part of the digestive system. Pancreatic cancer occurs the genetic material of cells in the pancreas become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the pancreas and move to other parts of the body.

Around 8,800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, making it the 11th most common cancer. Cancer of the pancreas is more common in older people, with about half of all new cases diagnosed in people who are aged 75 or over. It affects both men and women equally.

The precise causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, but several risk factors have been identified. Read more about the risk factors here.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancers shows symptoms that include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Sudden or unexplained weight loss
  • Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes

If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

If you are referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will send you for a variety of tests and examinations. These include:

  • A Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan, a procedure that uses radio waves and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
  • An Ultrasound scan, which uses high frequency sound waves to look inside the body and produce live images on a computer display
  • A Computerised Tomography scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Treatment of pancreatic cancer

Patients with pancreatic cancer are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. The treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on how much the cancer has spread, and your general fitness. Treatment could include:

  • Surgery, where the affected area is removed
  • Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, where chemical agents destroy the cancer cells preventing them from spreading to different areas
  • Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease.