Join for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
The pancreas is a gland found in the abdomen behind the stomach. The pancreas secretes a fluid that breaks down fats and proteins, and releases hormones, such as insulin, to control blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer is uncontrolled growth of cells of the pancreas. A higher than average number of pancreatic cancer cases occurring in the same family is known as familial pancreatic cancer.
Most pancreatic cancer grows from cells from the exocrine pancreas, the secreting portion of the pancreas. The most common appearance of pancreatic cancer cells is gland-like, which is termed adenocarcinoma.
In most cases, it is difficult to determine the cause of pancreatic cancer. Both environmental as well as genetic risk factors have been suggested for pancreatic cancer. A high-fat diet has been linked to increased pancreatic cancer risk, whereas diets high in vegetables and fruits seem to lower the risk. Smoking is known to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer; it is estimated that as many as 30% of pancreatic cancer cases are linked to smoking. Alcohol use and coffee consumption have been linked with increased pancreatic cancer risk, in some studies, but this connection has not been proven. Previous stomach surgery also may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Aflatoxin, a common fungal contaminant of certain foods, such as rice, corn, and peanuts, is a known cause of liver cancer, and has been postulated to also pose a risk for pancreatic cancer. However, no link has been found.
Certain occupations, such as farming or manufacturing, may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Multiple studies have shown that exposure to pesticides increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. The relationship of diabetes to pancreatic cancer has been closely studied. It is uncertain whether diabetes is the cause or the symptom of pancreatic cancer. Presence of diabetes, however, may alert health care providers to the presence of pancreatic cancer. Long-term inflammation of the pancreas, chronic pancreatitis, may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer as well. Genetic risk factors have also been reported.
Author Info: Kristin Baker Niendorf MS, CGC, Edward R. Rosick DO, MPH, MS, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders Part II, 2005
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.
Members get 10 free health tests from Walgreens Way to Well Health Tour with AARP®.
Members learn the ABCs of buying health insurance with Aetna’s 15-Minute Health Insurance Guide.
Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.