Pancreatic cancer: symptoms, risk factors and possible treatments

Written by: Mr Satyajit Bhattacharya
Published: | Updated: 26/02/2019
Edited by: Top Doctors®

Pancreatic cancer, although a rare form of cancer, is the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK alone, and fourth in the western world. This is because the symptoms do not show themselves until the cancer has progressed, often affecting parts of the body beyond the pancreas itself. Once this occurs, surgery is no longer a viable option despite being the most effective treatment for pancreatic cancer. Individuals should therefore watch out for early signs of pancreatic cancer symptoms in order to increase their chance of survival.



Pancreatic cancer symptoms

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer to look out for are:

  • Persistent, upper abdominal discomfort
  • Back pain
  • Sudden loss of weight
  • Jaundice (yellow tinge of the eyes and skin, with dark urine, pale stools, often with itching)

Although there are other, less deadly conditions that can cause these symptoms, it is recommended that the individual see a doctor as soon as possible.


Reducing the risk factors for pancreatic cancer

If one wishes to reduce the risk of cancer, it is always advised to avoid smoking, excess drinking, and obesity. Some individuals are naturally more at risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. Anybody with hereditary pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, or a family history of cancer, may benefit from regular screening under GP supervision.


Pancreatic cancer screening and treatment

Unlike other cancers, there is no favourable biomarker for pancreatic cancer. In other words, there is no test that demonstrates with clarity that somebody has this form of cancer. Having a reliable biomarker enabling earlier diagnosis could revolutionise treatment of pancreatic cancer.

That said, there has been encouraging progress over the past decade with regard to the treatment and screening of pancreatic cancer with advances in technology playing a major role. Patients are identified sooner due to the greater ease of access to scanning facilities with CT, MRI or ultrasound. Surgery is now more skilled and precise and surgical results have improved greatly. Although a large percentage of patients may still experience cancer recurrence, drug trials with chemotherapy are generating promising results which is a further step in the right direction.

Read more: Treatments for pancreatic cancer

By Mr Satyajit Bhattacharya

Mr Satyajit Bhattacharya is a specialist in treating gallstones and biliary disease, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and hernias. He originally trained in Mumbai, and has had further training and extensive experience in the UK and the US. Currently working at a number of prestigious hospitals including the Royal London and St Bartholomew's Hospital, the London Clinic, and the King Edward VII Hospital, he has raised large sums of money for pancreatic research.

He has published over 50 scientific papers, authored numerous book chapters, and is a member of prestigious boards and societies in his field. He was named one of Britain's best consultants by Tatler magazine in 2014 and 2015. He also holds the position of Serjeant Surgeon (Surgeon to the Queen) in the Royal Household.

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