About Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer is the #3 cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. In 2017 it is estimated that there will be more than 43,000 deaths related to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer accounts for approximately 3% of all cancers in the US and 7% of cancer deaths.1

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There are two types of pancreatic cancers: exocrine cancer and endocrine cancers. Exocrine cancers are the most common types of pancreatic cancer. There are several types of exocrine pancreatic cancer: pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which is by far the most common, and less common types including adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and signet ring cell carcinomas.2

More than 95% of cancers of the exocrine pancreas are adenocarcinomas. These cancers typically begin in the ducts of the pancreas. Less frequently, they grow from the cells that make the pancreatic enzymes, in which case they are called acinar cell carcinoma.3

Less than 5% of pancreatic cancers are endocrine-based cancers. As a group, they are often called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) or islet cell tumors.

Risk Factors

Several factors determine a person's lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer. One of these is smoking/tobacco use, with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increasing by 20-30% for smokers versus non-smokers. Cigar and pipe smoking are also believed to increase risk. Another factor for pancreatic cancer is being overweight or obese, with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increasing by 20%. Risk also increases as age increases, as the vast majority of patients with pancreatic cancer being over age 45, and two-thirds of patients being over 65. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 71. Several other factors that increase risk are gender, race, and family history.4

There are several inherited genetic factors that can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by as much as 10%. Examples include:

  • Familial pancreatitis, caused by mutations in the PRSS1 gene
  • Von Hippel - Lindau syndrome, caused by mutations in the VHL gene
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, caused by mutations in the MEN1 gene

Several other diseases also increase a risk for pancreatic cancer, including Type 2 diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and stomach ulcers.

Some studies have also linked poor diet, physical inactivity, and coffee and alcohol consumption to increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Not all studies have found that these links exist, and more data is needed to say definitively that these factors increase risk of developing pancreatic cancer.5

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect because it often doesn't show symptoms before it has spread to other parts of the body. Some symptoms of pancreatic cancer are jaundice, back pain, weight loss, gallbladder or liver enlargement, blood clots, fatty tissue abnormalities, diabetes, and nausea.

Footnotes
  1. https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  3. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/what-is-pancreatic-cancer.html
  4. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/what-is-pancreatic-cancer.html
  5. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html