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Pancreatic Cancer

Information, risk factors, and signs.

Like any cancer, pancreatic cancer is a tough disease to fight. What makes pancreatic cancer particularly challenging is that patients tend to be diagnosed in late stages of the disease – making successful treatment even more difficult to accomplish. We fight pancreatic cancer as a team, giving you the best hope for recovery.

Our pancreatic surgery team are pioneers in surgical techniques. They’ve performed several hundred pancreas operations, and perform in the top percentile of all pancreatic surgery programs in the country. Additionally, Henry Ford surgical oncologists were the first in Michigan to use NanoKnife, a pioneering technology used to destroy inoperable pancreatic tumors.

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a long, flat organ located deep in the abdomen. It is serves two functions: hormone production and digestion. In addition to secreting enzymes that help the body absorb nutrients during digestion, it also helps regulate your blood sugar with hormones such as insulin.

Pancreatic cancer is a condition in which tumors develop in or on the pancreas.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can develop in any person of any age. However, those with one or more of these risk factors are more at risk:

  • African-American ethnicity
  • Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Obesity
  • Older than 55
  • History of smoking or other tobacco use
  • Type 2 diabetes

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer symptoms are vague and often do not arise until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and possibly spread to other areas of the body. The tumors can be difficult to detect because the pancreas is tucked away from the surface of the abdomen.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, see a doctor as soon as you can to rule out or potentially diagnose pancreatic cancer:

  • Abdominal/back pain: A tumor in the pancreas can press against nerves and other organs, causing pain in the upper abdomen that can radiate to your back
  • Blood clots: Large clots in veins -- also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) -- often appear in the legs of pancreatic cancer patients, causing pain and swelling
  • Jaundice: Yellowing of the eyes and skin that often can be preceded by dark-colored urine, pale or gray stool, or itchy skin
  • Nausea: A tumor can press on the stomach and cause nausea, pain, and vomiting after eating
  • Weight loss: Unintended weight loss that may be accompanied by a loss of appetite could be a sign of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can be successfully treated if detected early. Our pancreatic cancer specialists offer a number of surgical and non-surgical treatments for pancreatic cancer and other digestive cancers. They’ll provide you with the education and support you need to accept your diagnosis, seek treatment with confidence, and manage your symptoms.

Many pancreatic cancer patients and their families appreciate talking and visiting with people who have been in their shoes. We’ll provide you with information about cancer support groups and services so you can receive the emotional support you need.

Hope Anchors the Soul

With a return of his pancreatic cancer, Scott Hirshey faced an uncertain future. After just five treatments using precise radiosurgery. the tumor shrunk, rekindling hope.

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