The initial growth of pancreatic cancer occurs within the pancreas and may cause blockage of the pancreatic or biliary ducts and produce jaundice, a condition where the skin turns yellow. In the early stages of pancreatic cancer there are not many noticeable symptoms. Pancreatic cancer symptoms depend on the site of the cancer within the pancreas and it location. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include the following:
- Light-colored stools or dark urine.
- Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
- Loss of appetite.
Pancreatic cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells.
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Risk factors can influence the development of cancer but most do not directly cause cancer. Many individuals with risk factors will never develop cancer and others with no known risk factors will. Most pancreatic cancers develop sporadically, which means for no known reason. Some pancreatic cancers however are more likely to develop in individuals with certain risk factors that increase an individual’s chance of developing pancreatic cancer.
The following factors may raise a person’s risk for developing pancreatic cancer,2,3,4
- A family history of pancreatic cancer.
- Cigarette smoking.
- Chronic pancreatitis.
1 American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2017. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2017.
2 National failure to operate on early stage pancreatic cancer. Annals of Surgery. 2007;246:173-180.
3 Tersmette AC, Petersen GM, Offerhaus GJ, et al.: Increased risk of incident pancreatic cancer among first-degree relatives of patients with familial pancreatic cancer. Clin Cancer Res 7 (3): 738-44, 2001.
4 Nöthlings U, Wilkens LR, Murphy SP, et al.: Meat and fat intake as risk factors for pancreatic cancer: the multiethnic cohort study. J Natl Cancer Inst 97 (19): 1458-65, 2005.