Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors Causes

The pancreas is a gland located behind your stomach that’s considered to be part of your digestive system. It secretes pancreatic juices into the small intestine that help digestion.

The pancreas also produces hormones and other substances. One such hormone is insulin, which helps to regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. Pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant cells grow on the pancreas.

What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?

Medical researchers have not yet pinpointed the exact causes of pancreatic cancer. However, some experts believe that the following may contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer:

  • alcoholism
  • cigarette smoking
  • diets high in fat and low in fiber
  • eating foods that have additives
  • obesity.

Switching to a low-fat, high-fiber diet is one thing you can do to decrease your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Heavy smokers face double the risk of non-smokers, so quitting smoking also reduces your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas.

You cannot, however, control all pancreatic cancer causes and risk factors. For example, males tend to get pancreatic cancer more often than women, although some studies have concluded that more women are getting pancreatic cancer than in the past. Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed more frequently in African Americans than Caucasians, Asians and Hispanics.

Age can also be a factor in developing pancreatic cancer, as most people who are diagnosed are over the age of 60. However, pancreatic cancer occurs in people under the age of 60 as well, especially among those who have a family history of this type of cancer.

Experts speculate that a relationship exists between diabetes and exposure to cancer-related substances such as asbestos, petrochemicals and some of the chemicals used to dry-clean clothes.

Finally, pancreatic cancer seems to run in families. If you have a close family member who has had pancreatic cancer, you’re more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than someone who does not have a family history of the disease.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer can be hard to diagnose initially, as many of the symptoms are also symptoms of other medical problems. Some of these symptoms include:

  • back pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • jaundice

Unfortunately, since these symptoms are not specific to pancreatic cancer, the disease is frequently diagnosed only when the cancer has reached later stages.

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible.

Some of the tests that are used to diagnose pancreatic cancer include:

  • angiography: You’ll be injected with a special dye so that your blood vessels can be X-rayed.
  • biopsies: A small sample of your pancreas will be tested to detect the presence of cancerous cells.
  • CT Scan: You’ll have X-rays taken from several different angles.
  • MRI: In this procedure, radio waves and magnetic fields are used instead of X-rays to take images.
  • ultrasonography: Sound waves are used to create images of your abdominal area.

If your doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, you can help by coming prepared to discuss your family’s medical history. While the exact causes of pancreatic cancer remain illusive, an early diagnosis of any cancer increases your chances of recovery.

Resources

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. (2003). Risk Factors. Retrieved June 29, 2007, from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Web site: http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/1038.cfm.

Oncology Channel. Pancreatic Cancer (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2007, from the Oncology Channel Web site: http://www.oncologychannel.com/pancreaticcancer/.

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine (2007). Pancreatic Cancer. Retrieved June 29, 2007, from the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine Web site: http://www.hmc.psu.edu/healthinfo/pq/pancreaticcancer.htm.

Rhode Island Cancer Council, Inc. (n.d.). Pancreatic Cancer: The Facts. Retrieved June 29, 2007, from the Rhode Island Cancer Council, Inc. Web site: http://www.ricancercouncil.org/cancer-info/pancreatic-cancer-facts.php.

Wrongdiagnosis.com. (2007). Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer. Retrieved June 29, 2007, from the Wrong Diagnosis Web site: http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/p/pancreatic_cancer/riskfactors.htm.