Frequently asked questions about pancreatic cancer

POSTED: 03:25 PM MDT Jul 24, 2013 
Cancer definition

By Pure Matters

These are some answers to frequently asked questions about pancreatic cancer.

Q: What is the pancreas?

A: The pancreas is a glandular organ, located deep in the abdomen. It is behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas is about 6 inches long and has a wide head with a body that tapers to a narrow tail. The pancreas makes enzymes and hormones. The enzymes mix with bile to help with the digestion of food, especially fats, sugars, and proteins. The pancreas makes the hormones insulin and glucagon. These hormones help the body control the level of sugar in the blood. Both of these hormones help the body use and store the energy it gets from food.

Q: What is cancer of the pancreas?

A: Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in the pancreas. No one is entirely sure why people get this type of cancer. It is thought that normal cells undergo a series of changes, leading to permanent cell changes, and eventually cancer.

Q: What are the different types of pancreatic cancer?

A: Most cancers of the pancreas start in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices. They are called adenocarcinomas. These are less common types of pancreatic cancer.

These types are named after the way they look under the microscope. A rare type of pancreatic cancer starts in the cells of the pancreas that make insulin and other hormones. These cells are called islet cells. Cancers that begin in these cells are called islet cell cancers, or endocrine tumors of the pancreas.

Q: What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

A: Pancreatic cancer can grow inside a person's body for a long time before symptoms appear. These are the most common symptoms.

Digestive problems often happen if the tumor blocks the release of pancreatic juices into the intestines. If this happens, people can have problems digesting fatty foods. This can cause stools to be pale, greasy, bulky, and foul smelling. The stools may also float in the toilet.

Q: What is the treatment for pancreatic cancer?

A: Doctors treat pancreatic cancer in these three ways.

People may have these treatments alone or combined.

Q: What is a pancreaticoduodenectomy?

A: This is the most common type of surgery used to remove tumors from the pancreas. It is also called the Whipple procedure. The surgeon removes all of these during the procedure.

After surgery, bile from the liver, food from the stomach, and digestive juices from the remaining part of the pancreas all enter the small intestine.

Q: Should everyone get a second opinion for a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer?

A: Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another doctor. There are many reasons to get a second opinion. These are some of the reasons.

Q: How can someone get a second opinion?

A: These are some ways to get a second opinion.

Pancreatic Cancer Statistics

These are 2011 statistics from the American Cancer Society’s Facts & Figures about pancreatic cancer: