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Pancreatic Cancer

Facts on Pancreatic Cancer

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas.

The pancreas is a gland about 6 inches long that is shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail. The pancreas lies between the stomach and the spine.

The pancreas has two main jobs in the body:

  • To make juices that help digest (break down) food.
  • To make hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that help control blood sugar levels. Both of these hormones help the body use and store the energy it gets from food.

The digestive juices are made by exocrine pancreas cells and the hormones are made by endocrine pancreas cells. About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine cells.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Pancreatic Cancer:

Pancreatic Cancer - Symptoms

What are your experiences with pancreatic cancer symptoms and signs?

Pancreatic insufficiency

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms and Signs

The initial signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often nonspecific and have a gradual or slow onset. The main symptoms of pancreatic cancer include the following:

  • Pain in the abdomen, the back, or both; often the pain becomes constant
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Pruritis
  • Enlarged gallbladder
  • Abdominal problems (ascites, abdominal mass)
  • Palpable lymph nodes (cervical, clavicular)
  • Depression
  • Venous thrombosis


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