What Is the #1 Cause of Pancreatic Cancer?

Reviewed on 8/14/2020

What is the #1 cause of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells begin to grow uncontrollably and form tumors within the pancreas

The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. However, doctors have identified some risk factors that increase your chances of developing pancreatic cancer. These include:

Other factors that may contribute to the development of cancer include:

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

The doctor first asks about the person’s medical history and family history. Then, they look for signs and symptoms of the disease. They might order the tests listed below if they suspect cancer. However, the diagnosis will be confirmed with laboratory examination of a sample of tissue from the tumor taken during a biopsy, fine needle aspiration, or surgery.

Blood tests: Levels of bilirubin will be checked. Levels of carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9), a tumor marker, may be increased in blood if pancreatic cancer is present.

Imaging tests: Imaging tests help doctors find out the location and size of cancer and whether there is metastasis (spread of cancer in the body). These include:

Other tests include:

  • Biopsy (removal of a small sample of pancreatic tissue for examination under a microscope)
  • Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC, insertion of a thin needle into the pancreas to suction out cells) 
  • Core needle biopsy (collecting a larger piece of tissue for molecular or genetic testing of the tumor)
  • Molecular testing of the tumor (examination of tumor sample to look for changes in specific genes and proteins)
  • Germline testing (testing a blood or saliva sample to look for person’s hereditary predisposition to cancer)

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Can pancreatic cancer be cured?

If you have pancreatic cancer that has spread (metastasis) to other organs it might be very hard to treat and almost impossible to cure. In this case, the doctor will give you treatment to limit cancer and its symptoms, and help you live longer. 

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of cancer and includes:

  • Surgery: Surgery is an option for patients whose pancreatic cancer is localized, i.e. is present only in the pancreas and has not spread anywhere else.  Only about 20% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer can have surgery because most pancreatic cancers are found after the disease has already spread.
  • Radiation therapy: Once cancer spreads outside of the pancreas, doctors consider local therapy, such as radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses X-rays and other high-energy beams to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. This is usually used if cancer has spread to other organs of the body. In some cases, your doctor might combine other treatments like surgery and radiation with chemotherapy to prevent the future growth of pancreatic tumors.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that help in the growth of cancer. It blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells, but restricts damage to normal cells.

How can you prevent pancreatic cancer?

You cannot control risk factors such as age, gender, race, and family history. But there are things you can follow to lower your risk, including the following:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Follow a diet that contains whole cereals, fruits, and vegetables, but is less in sugar and high fatty foods
  • Keep body weight under control
  • Do regular physical activities
  • Avoid alcohol use
  • Try to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals in the workplace as much as possible

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References
Pancreatic Cancer Guide. Available at: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/pancreatic-cancer

Pancreatic cancer. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/

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