Pancreatic cancer begins when cells in the pancreas start to grow uncontrollably. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It is shaped a bit like a fish with a wide head, a tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. In adults it is about 6 inches long but less than 2 inches wide. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen (belly), behind where the stomach meets the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The body of the pancreas is behind the stomach, and the tail of the pancreas is on the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out fof control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. To learn more about how cancers start and spread.
Pancreatic Cancer Facts
- An estimated 53,070 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the U.S., and over 41,780 will die from the disease.
- Pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially over nearly 40 years.
- Pancreatic cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States surpassing breast cancer. It is expected to become the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related death in the US by the year 2030, surpassing colorectal cancer.
- Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. 93% of cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis – only 8% will survive more than five years. 71% of patients die within the first year of diagnosis.
- The average life expectancy after diagnosis with metastatic disease is just three to six months.
- Few risk factors for developing cancer are defined. Family history of the disease, smoking, age, and diabetes are risk factors.
- Pancreatic cancer may cause only vague symptoms that could indicate many different conditions within the abdomen or gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include pain (usually abdominal or back pain), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, and diabetes.
- Treatment options for cancer are limited. Surgical removal of the tumor is possible in less than 20% of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy or chemotherapy together with radiation is typically offered to patients whose tumors cannot be removed surgically.
- Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer death largely because there are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible.