Caring for your Pancreas

You’ve probably heard about pancreatic cancer here and there; perhaps a family member or friend was impacted by the disease and spoken about it, or you’ve seen a favorite celebrity speak about it in a commercial on television or advertisement online. But did you know that pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the US and about 7% of all cancer deaths.*

What does the Pancreas do?

The pancreas is an organ in your abdomen that releases enzymes to aid digestion and help manage your blood sugar. Several types of growths can occur in the pancreas, including cancerous and noncancerous tumors.

What are the risks of Pancreatic Cancer?

The disease is slightly more common in men than in women. While there are some risk factors for pancreatic cancer that you cannot avoid like age, gender, a family history, and genetic syndromes, you can be in control of tobacco use, weight gain, diabetes, and alcohol use.

What are the symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

Unfortunately, like most cancer types, early pancreatic cancer do not cause signs and symptoms until the tumor has grown or spread outside the organ. Below are some notable symptoms, which don’t automatically mean that you have the disease but should prompt you to visit a health care professional:

  • Jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Belly or back pain
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A blood clot in a large vein, often in the leg

What Tests are available for Pancreatic Cancer?

If your doctor suspects that you may have pancreatic cancer, more tests to determine the extent (stage) of cancer will be performed. Among them are:

  • An imaging test such as CT scan, MRI, Ultrasound, Cholangiopancreatography, PET scan
  • Blood tests such as liver function tests, test for tumor markers (CA 19-9, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), CBC or chemistry panel
  • Biopsy
  • If cancer is found, the tumor sample might be tested for changes in genes (mutations), such as BRCA1, BRCA2, or NTRK – which might affect the treatment and medical management


You can’t spell pancreas without care, so take the time to care for your pancreas. Use Pancreatic Awareness Month to speak with your physician or healthcare provider about your potential risks and next steps in testing and diagnosis. 

*Source: American Cancer Society