There are two main types of pancreatic cancer. Most often, pancreatic cancer starts in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices. This type is called exocrine pancreatic cancer. Much less often, pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that make hormones. This type may be called endocrine pancreatic cancer or islet cell cancer.
We still do not know exactly what causes most cases of pancreatic cancer. But some risk factors have been linked to the disease. A risk factor is something that affects a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person's age or race, can't be changed.
Dr. Al B. Benson, III, Medical Oncologist and Associate Director for Clinical Investigations at the Lurie Cancer Center, discusses risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer in this National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) video.
Doctors often refer to pancreatic cancer as a silent disease because there are not many noticeable symptoms early on. When there are symptoms, they are similar to the symptoms of other medical conditions, such as ulcers or pancreatitis. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
If one or more of the signs and symptoms described here is present, certain exams and tests may be done to find out whether they are caused by pancreatic cancer or by some other disease.
The 3 main types of treatment for exocrine pancreatic cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Depending on the stage of the cancer, some of these treatments may be combined. Pancreatic endocrine tumors are also treated with these 3 types of therapy. In addition, drugs (besides chemotherapy) can be helpful.
Lurie Cancer Center Oncologist, Dr. Al B. Benson, III, discusses additional aspects of pancreatic cancer treatment in these NCCN videos:
A Team Approach to Treatment
Optimal Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer
When is Surgery an Option?
Preoperative Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer clinical trials may also be an appropriate treatment option. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network recommends that all patients consider clinical trials when exploring treatment options.
Search Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials at the Lurie Cancer Center
Several options for controlling pain are possible for patients throughout treatment, according to Dr. Benson.
David Mahvi, MD, Chief of Surgical Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, discusses the current treatments for colon cancer and pancreatic cancer including the effectiveness of post-surgery therapies and who should receive them.
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