Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
Unexplained weight loss
Loss of appetite
If a pancreatic cancer is found at an early stage (stage I and stage II) and is contained locally within or around the pancreas, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is the only curative treatment for pancreatic cancer. The surgical procedure most commonly performed to remove a pancreatic cancer is a "Whipple" procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy). It often comprises removal of a portion of the stomach, the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), pancreas, bile ducts, lymph nodes, and gallbladder. It is important to be evaluated at a hospital with lots of experience performing pancreatic cancer surgery because the operation is a big one and evidence shows that experienced surgeons better select people who can get through the surgery safely and also better judge who will most likely benefit from the operation. In experienced hands, mortality from the surgery itself is less than 4%.
After the Whipple surgery, patients typically spend about one week in the hospital recovering from the operation. Complications from the surgery can include blood loss (anemia), leakage from the reconnected intestines or ducts, or slow return of bowel function. Recovery to presurgical health can often take several months.
After patients recover from a Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer, treatment to reduce the risk of the cancer returning is a standard recommendation. This treatment, referred to as "adjuvant therapy," has proven to lower the risk of recurrent cancer. Typically, six months of adjuvant chemotherapy is recommended, sometimes with radiation incorporated into the plan.