Frequently Asked Questions

Pancreatic cancer: frequently asked questions

November 29, 2022 Word for Word Media 0Comment

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) shares the most frequently asked questions by newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Most people with pancreatic cancer (and nearly all people with ampullary cancer) will have jaundice (yellow skin and whites of the eyes) as their first symptom. Jaundice is caused by the build-up of bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance made in the liver. Other symptoms include light-coloured stools, dark urine, pain in the upper or middle abdomen and/or back, unexplained weight loss, feeling tired, and poor appetite.

What is the cause of pancreatic cancer?

Most pancreatic cancer is diagnosed after age 65. Smoking, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas, family history of pancreatic cancer, and certain genetic syndromes are all known risk factors. Carrying extra weight that is unhealthy for your body may also be a contributing factor.

Chronic pancreatitis symptoms include: 

  • Upper abdominal pain;
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to your back;
  • Tenderness when touching the abdomen;
  • Fever;
  • Rapid pulse;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting.

Can a blood test reveal pancreatic cancer?

A blood test may be able to detect the most common form of pancreatic cancer while it’s still in early stages while also helping doctors accurately stage your disease and guide them to the appropriate treatment.

Will an MRI show pancreatic cancer?

An MRI or MRCP scan can show up abnormal areas in the abdomen. You might have one or both of these scans to find out if you have pancreatic cancer. If you have already been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you might have a scan to find out the size of the cancer and whether it has spread.

Can I prevent pancreatic cancer?

Unfortunately most pancreatic cancers can’t be prevented, but you can reduce the risk by maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and limiting your alcohol intake. Other risk factors include chronic pancreatitis and family history.

What stage of pancreatic cancer is curable?

Stage 1 pancreatic cancer typically doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms. If detected at this stage, pancreatic cancer may be curable with surgery.

Can I live without my pancreas?

It’s possible to live without a pancreas. However, when the entire pancreas is removed, people are left without the cells that make insulin and other hormones that help maintain safe blood glucose levels. These people develop diabetes, which can be hard to manage because they are totally dependent on insulin shots.

Where does pancreatic cancer most commonly spread to?

Pancreatic cancers often first spread within the abdomen (belly) and to the liver. They can also spread to the lungs, bone, brain, and other organs.

What is the survival rate after pancreatic surgery?

For some pancreatic patients, a complex surgery known as the Whipple procedure may extend life and could be a potential cure. Those who undergo a successful Whipple procedure may have a five-year survival rate of up to 25%.

Does pancreatic cancer run in families?

Experts estimate that a small percentage (about 10%) of pancreatic cancer cases are hereditary. Hereditary cancers are caused by gene mutations (abnormalities in your DNA) that can be passed down in families.

For more info on pancreatic cancer, click here.

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The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) enables research in lowering cancer risk, educates about cancer symptoms, screening and risk reduction as well as provides care and support to all affected by cancer. Toll Free 0800 22 66 22 |


This article is sponsored by Accord Healthcare in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the support group’s own work and not influenced by Accord in any way.

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