Patient Education Handout: Frequently Asked Questions about Pancreatic
Q. What is definition of pancreatic cancer and how does it occur?
A. It is uncontrolled cell growth that takes place in the pancreatic
cells that form exotic glands. Over 95 % of pancreatic cells form ducts
and exotic glands, which have high chances of developing malignant
tumors (Moynihan, 2013).
Q. What are the risk factors for the development of pancreatic cancer?
A. Currently researchers have not identified common factors that can be
attributed to the development of pancreatic cancer in different
patients. However, there are several risk factors that increase the like
hood of developing pancreatic cancer including
Old age (50 years and above)
Gender differences where men have 30 % chances higher than women
Genetic predisposition where African Americans are at higher risk than
Asian Americans and White Americans
Five out of ten chances of inheriting the cancer
Patients suffering from diabetes mellitus
Chronic pancreatitis increase the chances of developing the cancer
Q. Is pancreatic cancer passed transmitted?
A. There is no evidence for transition of cancer from one person to the
Q. Why does pancreatic cancer spread so rapidly?
A. The pancreas is a soft tissue with about 95 % exotic cells that
elevate the malignant development rate. The pancreas is also located in
the abdomen in a position that is adjacent to other body structures such
as liver and intestines, which increase the chances of spreading
malignancy to these structures (Moynihan, 2013).
Q. What are the common symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
A. Symptoms do not develop in the early stages of malignancy, but
several symptoms develop depending on the where the cancer has
developed, the size of the tumor, and cancer location. The common
Upper abdominal pain as a result of cancer pushing against nerves
High rate of losing weight
Loss of appetite and vomiting
Jaundice, which characterized by yellowing of skin and eye while urine
Acholic stool and steatorrhea
Q. How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?
A. Preliminary stages of diagnosis include physical examination
(studying the common symptoms), and a study of family and personal
medical history. There are three advanced techniques of detecting
pancreatic cancer that is applied after preliminary examination. First,
health care provider may conduct blood and urine test to detect the
presence of carcinoembryonic antigen, which is released by the pancreas.
Secondly, health care provider may perform a biopsy, which involves the
removal and examination of a sample for the presence of cancer cells
using a microscope. Third, imaging techniques (such as ultrasound,
endoscopic ultrasound, and abdominal computerized tomography scan) to
assess the existence of cancer cells (Jelic, 2009).
Q. What treatment options can health care providers use?
A. Cancer treatment options depend on several factors such as type of
cancer, developmental stage, health status of the patient, and age. In
addition, cancer is treatable only if it is detected at its early
developmental stage and there is no single treatment procedure that has
been proven to be perfectly effective for treatment of pancreatic
cancer. The most common treatment options include chemotherapy,
radiation, and surgery (Jelic, 2009). The chemotherapy treatment
procedure involves the use of chemicals to interfere with cell division
of rapidly dividing cells, which are responsible for development of
malignancy. Radiation treatment involves destruction of cancer cells
using high energy rays that focus on cancerous cells. Surgical treatment
involves removal of all or part of the infected pancreas using one of
the three procedures Whipple procedure, distal pancreatectomy, or total
Q. What side effects should the patient expect from the treatment
A. Destroying cancerous cells without damaging normal cells and other
tissues may be practically impossible. Consequently, several side
effects may probably be seen in patients after a therapeutic process.
Side effects of chemotherapeutic treatment include bruises, loss of
hair, increased chances of infection, nausea, mouth sores, vomiting, and
loss of appetite. Side effects of surgical operation include fatigue,
pain, and diarrhea caused by prescribed medicine. Side effects of ration
treatment include permanent darkening of skin, digestion problems,
diarrhea, nausea, and tiredness during and shortly after the treatment
(Pancreatic Cancer Network, 2013).
Q. What are the chances for survival after treatment of pancreatic
A. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate, but chances for
survival vary with individual patients. Several factors of the patient
and disease characteristic determining the survival rate, and include
aggressiveness of the tumor, health status of the patient, stage at
which the disease was diagnosed, and risk of co-infections. On average,
the survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 5-years, which refers to the
percentage of cancer patients who survive at least five years after the
cancer was first diagnosed (American Cancer Society, 2013). However,
research has shown that some cancer patients beat the survival rate odds
and live a long life beyond the average patient.
Q. Can a patient adjusts well to pancreatic cancer disease?
A. Yes. However, recovery and means of adjusting vary from patient to
patient. Some patients may be required to adjust their dietary habits
because irresponsible behaviors mar result in other health hazards such
as diabetes. Social support groups as effective tools for adjustment of
patients suffering from pancreatic cancer and their help in improving
the quality of life of these patients. Patients should also maintain an
open dialogue with their health care providers so that they can be
American Cancer Society (2013). Survival rates for pancreatic cancer.
Atlanta: American Cancer Society.
Jelic, S. (2009). Pancreatic cancer: ESMO clinical recommendations for
diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 20 (4), 37-40.
Moynihan, J. (2013, August 7). Pancreas cancer: Why is pancreatic cancer
so difficult to treat? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 19, 2013, from
Pancreatic Cancer Network (2013). Radiation therapy. Manhattan: PCN.
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