Pancreatic Cancer: What is It, Factors, Symptoms & Types

By Dr. Ganesh Nagarajan in Nanavati Max Institute of Cancer Care , Hepatobiliary Pancreatic Oncology Program

Apr 24 , 2023 | 2 min read

Pancreatic cancer refers to the abnormal growth of malignant cells in the tissue of the pancreas that gradually replaces all the healthy tissues. The pancreas is a glandular organ present in the upper abdomen that is responsible for producing various digestive enzymes and juices. Pancreatic cancer is a progressive disease marked by severe abdominal pain and bowel obstruction. It is a result of unhealthy DNA mutations in the pancreas. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, also known as pancreatic exocrine cancer, which begins in the cells lining the pancreatic ducts.

If left untreated, cancer can metastasize to other organs, thereby giving rise to more complications. Treatment for pancreatic cancer is available at all the top-notch hospitals like Nanavati Max Hospital, where you can find the best doctors in Mumbai.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Some of the common symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer, as listed by the leading HPB Surgery doctors in Mumbai, as listed below:

  • Persistent abdominal and back pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Yellowing of eyes
  • Itchiness
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Excessive clotting
  • Fatigue and general body weakness
  • Dark and pungent-smelling urine
  • Light stools and bowel obstruction.

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer usually go undetected in the early stages and these become evident only when the disease has advanced. If a patient persistently experiences any of the above mentioned symptoms, he/she is likely to see a doctor who may conduct certain tests and screenings to evaluate and assess the symptoms and determine their root cause. Some of the common diagnostic techniques used by the doctors specialising in Hepatopancreatic Biliary Surgery in Mumbai are as under:

Stages of Pancreatic Cancer

Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, the cancer is staged to plan a proper treatment protocol. Pancreatic cancers are categorized into 4 different stages. These are:

Stage 0- The stage is not counted as the cancer is yet to be formed and may only be found in the lining of the pancreatic ducts. This stage is commonly known as carcinoma in situ.

Stage I - This stage is marked by the formation of a cancerous mass or tumor in the pancreas. Initially, the tumor is very small, less than 2 cm, and continues to grow in size gradually. During this stage, the cancer is localized.

Stage II - Cancer has spread to the surrounding tissues, organs, and lymph nodes. Initially, the lymph nodes are not involved and cancer spreads to these by the end of stage II. Cancer has advanced locally.

Stage III - Cancer has metastasized to the major blood vessels.

Stage IV - Cancer has metastasized to all the major organs like the lungs, kidneys, liver, etc.

Cancer treatment is much easier in the early stages, however, as the disease progresses, it gives rise to more and more complications making the treatment slightly difficult.

Also Read About Pancreas Infection

Major Risk Factors Associated with Pancreatic Cancer

Although pancreatic cancers are mostly a result of unhealthy gene mutations, there are certain factors that can increase your vulnerability to the same. Some of the most common risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer include the following:

  • Excessive smoking, substance abuse, and consumption of alcohol
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis (a condition marked by the chronic inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Obesity
  • Age (approximately 90 percent of the patients are older than 55 years)
  • Gender (men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer as compared to women)