Pancreatic cancer happens when cells in the pancreas grow abnormally and in an uncontrolled way. Most (95%) pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumours – meaning they develop in the cells that make enzymes. Other types of pancreatic cancer (endocrine tumours) are treated differently. This information is about exocrine pancreatic tumours.
Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages because it doesn’t have many specific signs or symptoms. It’s often diagnosed when it’s more advanced which makes it difficult to treat.
Your GP will discuss your symptoms and medical history, and examine your abdomen. They may recommend urine and blood tests. They’ll then refer you to a specialist for further investigation. You may then have scans (such as ultrasound, CT, MRI or PET scans) and, depending on the results, further tests such as:
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. However, factors that may increase your chance of getting it include:
Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to treat because it’s not spotted until it starts to cause symptoms, by which time it’s advanced. Your treatment will depend on the type and location of the cancer, how much it’s spread and your general health.
The main treatments for pancreatic cancer are:
For more advanced cases of liver cancer, treatment aims to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease if it’s not possible to cure it.