What is pancreatic cancer?
The pancreas lies within the upper abdomen and is responsible for producing insulin (which helps to control blood sugar) and various enzymes that are involved in the digestion of food. Pancreatic cancer is cancerous growth in the pancreas gland and it is the sixth commonest cancer in the United Kingdom with 7,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.
What are the symptoms?
Pancreatic cancer can cause many symptoms depending on which part of the gland is affected. Approximately 70% of tumours occur in the head of the gland and the commonest presenting symptom is jaundice. Patients will appear to be yellow and the best place to see this is often by looking at the white areas within the eyes. Jaundice is often associated with skin itching which can be the first noticeable symptom in some cases. Tumours in the body and tail will most often present with vague abdominal discomfort, weight loss and loss of appetite. Other symptoms can include pale motions, dark urine, indigestion and feeling lethargic.
How is the diagnosis made?
Patients who present with symptoms suggestive of a possible cancerous growth in the pancreas will usually be evaluated with an ultrasound scan of the abdomen initially. In many cases this will be followed by a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis if an abnormality is found on the ultrasound scan.
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