Pancreatic Cancer Educational Information

Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which healthy cells in the pancreas stop working correctly and grow uncontrollably. Read below to discover some basic information about this disease, coping recommendations and questions to ask when consulting with your doctor.

About pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer begins when healthy cells in the pancreas stop working correctly and grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. The most common type of pancreatic cancer, called ductal adenocarcinoma, begins in the cells lining the pancreatic ducts. Because pancreatic cancer often does not cause specific symptoms, it may not be found until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

What is the function of the pancreas?

The pancreas is a pear-shaped gland located in the abdomen between the stomach and the spine. It has two major components: exocrine and endocrine. The exocrine component, made up of ducts with small sacs called acini on the end, produces specialized proteins called enzymes that help the body digest and break down food. The endocrine component is made up of cells clustered together, called the islets of Langerhans, and produces hormones, the most important one being insulin, which helps control blood sugar.

What does stage mean?

The stage is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. The most common method used to stage pancreatic cancer puts the cancer into 1 of 4 categories based on whether the tumor can be removed with surgery and where it has spread: resectable, borderline resectable, locally advanced and metastatic. Find more information about these stages at

How is pancreatic cancer treated

The treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on the size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, and the person’s overall health. The most common pancreatic cancer treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Surgery may involve removing all or part of the pancreas, along with the nearby lymph nodes, depending on the location and stage of the cancer. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy may be used if surgery is not recommended, before surgery to reduce the size of a tumor or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and decrease the likelihood of the cancer returning.

When making treatment decisions, people may also consider a clinical trial; talk with your doctor about all treatment options. The side effects of pancreatic cancer treatment can often be prevented or managed with the help of your health care team. This is called palliative care and is an important part of the overall treatment plan. Palliative care for pancreatic cancer includes controlling diabetes, managing pain and improving digestion.

How can I cope with pancreatic cancer?

Absorbing the news of a cancer diagnosis and communicating with your health care team are key parts of the coping process. Seeking support, organizing your health information, making sure all of your questions are answered and participating in the decision-making process are other steps. Talk with your health care team about any concerns. Understanding your emotions and those of people close to you can be helpful in managing the diagnosis, treatment and healing process.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

Regular communication is important in making informed decisions about your health care. Consider asking the following questions of your health care team:

  • What type of pancreatic cancer do I have?
  • Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
  • What stage is the pancreatic cancer? What does this mean?
  • Would you explain my treatment options?
  • What clinical trials are open to me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?
  • What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?
  • Who will be part of my treatment team, and what does each member do?
  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise and perform my usual activities?
  • What long-term side effects may be associated with my cancer treatment?
  • What can be done to help manage side effects?
  • If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my cancer care, who can help me with these concerns?
  • Where can I find emotional support for me and my family?
  • Whom should I call for questions or problems?
  • Is there anything else I should be asking?

Additional questions to ask your doctor can be found at Cancer.Net

Source: American Society of Clinical Oncology