Pancreatic cancer: causes and symptoms

The pancreas is shaped like a stretched teardrop, with the thick part or head resting in the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). It is located between the stomach and spine, surrounded by the liver and intestines. It is almost as long (15 cm) as a pencil, but weighs the equivalent of 14 pencils (140 grams).

The pancreas secretes pancreatic juice into the small intestine through the pancreatic duct. The juices contain enzymes that continue digestion started in the stomach and intestine absorbs nutrients. The pancreas also produces insulin and other hormones, which pass into the blood and help to use and store energy from food. Insulin, for example, helps control the amount of sugar in the blood.

Pancreatic cancer can be of two types: exocrine and endocrine pancreatic cancer pancreatic cancer.

It is estimated that in 2015 there will be about 48,960 new cases of pancreatic cancer in the United States. Among Hispanics there were 2,700 new cases in 2009 and 2,200 Hispanics died from this cancer. It is the fourth most deadly cancer among Hispanic women and the fifth deadliest among men. This is one of the most difficult cancers to cure partly because diagnosed late when therapies are less effective.

As it is known that the human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer, a specific cause of pancreatic cancer is not known. But what is clear is that there is a list of factors that increase the likelihood that this cancer occurs.

Pancreatic cancer is silent and most cases are detected at an advanced stage when it is harder to cure. This cancer is more common in people over 65 years.

The following symptoms may indicate the presence of prostate cancer or other diseases and warrant immediate medical consultation

Jaundice is due to the accumulation of bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin-which has a yellowish-brown is a product of the normal recycling of red blood cells in the liver. The liver removes bilirubin in the bile, which is secreted into the small intestine via the bile duct and leaves the body in the stool.

The bile duct goes through the pancreas on its way to the intestine, and if there is a tumor in the pancreas, it can press the bile duct, closing the passage of bile. Bilirubin accumulates in the body, giving the yellowish color. As the bilirubin can not pass stool, they acquire a lighter than normal color. Before the skin to turn yellow, bilirubin can be detected when passing urine and dark.

When the tumor is large it may press on nearby organs such as the liver, stomach or nerves and cause pain.

Cancer can cause digestive problems if the tumor blocks the passage of pancreatic juices into the intestine. No juices can not digest fats, which passed in the feces and float in the toilet.

The tumor can surround the stomach and block the passage of food to the intestines, causing nausea and vomiting.

These same problems may be due to other causes that are not cancer, but if the consequences are not solved can be extremely serious.


National Cancer Institute, “Pancreatic Cancer,” (accessed July 31, 2015)

American Cancer Society, Facts and statistics on Cancer Among Hispanics / Latinos 2009-2011 (in Spanish)