What is pancreatic exocrine cancer?

Pancreatic exocrine cancer is a disease where cells of the pancreas grow at an out-of-control rate and form tumors.

94% of pancreatic cancers occur in the exocrine cells, as stated by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. In this type of cancer, tumors form in the ducts of the pancreas.

Common related conditions
Pancreatic Cancer

Causes of pancreatic exocrine cancer

Just like with other types of cancer, the causes of pancreatic cancer are a mystery. Doctors believe that family history and genes play a role.

Risk factors of pancreatic exocrine cancer

A few factors put some groups of people at a higher risk for getting pancreatic cancer. Age and gender top the list. Men are more likely to have this type of cancer than women. About 90% of all pancreatic cancers occur in people over the age of 55.

Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Contact with harmful chemicals
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Ongoing problems with the pancreas
  • Stomach infections

Some studies show that eating processed meat, drinking coffee and alcohol and not exercising increase a person's risk of this disease.

Symptoms of pancreatic exocrine cancer

Pancreatic cancer does not have many signs in the early stages. This makes it hard to detect until it reaches advanced stages or spreads to other parts of the body. Many of the symptoms you have are the same as with other digestive issues.

Common signs include:

  • Yellowing of the skin and white parts of the eyes
  • Unusual stools, nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the upper abdomen and back (the location of the pancreas)
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

Diagnosis of pancreatic exocrine cancer

There aren't any tests to diagnose this type of cancer as there are with other cancers. This, along with so few early warning signs, are reasons why many people do not know they have it until they are in the late stages of the disease.

Diagnosis starts with a physical exam and getting your medical history. If your doctor thinks it's pancreatic cancer, he will order more tests to get a better look.

Some of these tests include a CT scan, MRI and surgery. A doctor may use a small tool with a camera attached to look inside your abdomen and get a clear picture of the tumor. Doctors will also remove cells from the tumor to send for more testing.

Treatments for pancreatic exocrine cancer

Treatment for this disease depends on the stage of the cancer and other health factors. Surgery to remove the tumors from the pancreas is common, as are radiation therapy and chemotherapy. There is a lot to learn about this type of cancer. Doctors come up with new medicines and treatments all the time. Your doctor might suggest taking part in a clinical trial.

Treatments, such as using hot or cold to destroy cancer cells or to block blood flow in certain blood vessels, prevent the spread of cancer cells. These treatments make you feel better rather than treat the cancer itself. Medicine to help with pain is another part of your treatment.

Recovery from pancreatic exocrine cancer

Recovery is different for everyone. The five-year survival rate for those who get early diagnosis and treatment is higher than for those who are in the late stages of the disease.

You'll need to attend follow-up appointments with your doctor, who will ask questions and possibly run some tests to make sure the cancer isn't returning.

Find a pancreatic cancer doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you