Pancreatic cancer symptoms, risk factors, and FAQs

Signs and symptoms

If you experience any of these symptoms, see your provider right away as symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to your back
  • Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Depression
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice, which is yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Pancreatitis, which is chronic inflammation of the pancreas
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of genetic syndromes that can increase cancer risk, including a BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome.
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Older age, as most people are diagnosed after age 65

A large study demonstrated that the combination of smoking, long-standing diabetes and a poor diet increases the risk of pancreatic cancer beyond the risk of any one of these factors alone.

 

Questions and answers (FAQs)

What is pancreatitis? Is it linked to pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, which can be acute or chronic. Pancreatitis is typically not related to pancreatic cancer, but in some cases, there is a link.

What are pancreatic cysts? Do they lead to cancer?

Pancreatic cysts are fairly common, and most do not lead to cancer. There are different types of cysts—most are benign, but some are malignant and may be pre-cancerous so proper diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Can I live without a pancreas?

Yes, but you’ll be diabetic. If your pancreas is removed as part of your cancer treatment plan, you’ll need to take insulin and digestive enzymes for the rest of your life.

Can pancreatic cancer be prevented?

No, there is no definitive prevention. However, you can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight and diet, not smoking and limiting alcohol.