Cancer of the Pancreas

Basic information about cancer of the pancreas, including types and treatment options.

More than 100 different types of cancer are known--and several types of cancer can develop in the pancreas. Cancer of the pancreas is also called pancreatic cancer or carcinoma of the pancreas. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices. A rare type of pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that produce insulin and other hormones. These cells are called islet cells, or the islets of Langerhans. Cancers that begin in these cells are called islet cell cancers.

As pancreatic cancer grows, the tumor may invade organs that surround the pancreas, such as the stomach or small intestine. Pancreatic cancer cells also may break away from the tumor and spread to other parts of the body. When pancreatic cancer cells spread, they often form new tumors in lymph nodes and the liver, and sometimes in the lungs or bones. The new tumors have the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor in the pancreas. For example, if pancreatic cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are pancreatic cancer cells. The disease is metastatic pancreatic cancer; it is not liver cancer

Preparing for Treatment

Many people with cancer want to learn all they can about the disease and their treatment choices so they can take an active part in decisions about their medical care. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, shock and stress are natural reactions. These feelings may make it difficult to think of everything to ask the doctor. Often, it helps to make a list of questions. To help remember what the doctor says, patients may take notes or ask whether they may use a tape recorder. Some people also want to have a family member or friend with them when they talk to the doctor--to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.

People do not need to ask all of their questions or remember all of the answers at one time. Questions may arise throughout the treatment process. Patients may ask doctors, nurses, or other members of the health care team to explain things further or to provide more information.

These are some questions a patient may want to ask the doctor before treatment begins:

  • What is the diagnosis?
  • What is the stage of the disease?
  • What is the grade of the disease?
  • What are the treatment choices? Which do you recommend? Why?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will be successful?
  • What new treatments are being studied in clinical trials? Would a clinical trial be appropriate?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • Will treatment affect my normal activities? If so, for how long?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost?

Follow-up Care

Regular follow-up exams are very important after treatment for pancreatic cancer. The doctor will continue to check the person closely so that, if the cancer returns or progresses, it can be treated. Checkups may include a physical exam; blood, urine, and stool tests; chest x-rays; and CT scans.

People taking medicine to replace pancreatic hormones or digestive juices need to see their doctor regularly so that the dose can be adjusted if necessary. Also, it is important for the patient to let the doctor know about pain or any changes or problems that occur.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc.

This article is adapted from information in the What You Need to Know About™ Cancer series, published by the National Cancer Institute.



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