Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Pancreatic cancer is the third most common cause of cancer related deaths in Australia, after lung and colorectal cancers. Only 1 in 10 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will survive beyond 5 years. For most people who are diagnosed life expectancy is 6-12 months, although often they can only have a few months. It is estimated in 2020 that 3,300 Australians will die as a result of this disease.

Early detection and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult as there is a lack of characteristic symptoms during early stages of the disease. However, there are signs that can emerge as the disease progresses to affect other organs.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Early detection and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult as there is a lack of characteristic symptoms during early stages of the disease. However, there are signs associated with pancreatic cancer that can emerge as the disease progresses to affect other organs. Symptoms may vary depending on where the cancer is located. For example, the yellow skin characteristic of jaundice occurs when a tumour blocks the bile duct.

If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns, please contact your general practitioner (GP).

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

The causes of pancreatic cancer are still unknown. However, some factors, which include lifestyle habits and certain medical conditions, can increase the chance of developing pancreatic cancer. Risk factors include:

  • Older age
  • A diet that has a high proportion of red meat, saturated fat and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables can increase pancreatic cancer risk.
  • People who smoke tobacco are two to three times more at risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, long term infection of hepatitis B and previous surgery, including the partial removal of the stomach or gall bladder.
  • Chronic pancreatitis, the long-term inflammation of the pancreas, can increase risk five-fold. Long term heavy alcohol consumption can lead to chronic pancreatitis.
  • A family history of pancreatic, ovarian or colon cancer. A genetic link may exist in 10% of cases of pancreatic cancer, where a genetic mutation increases your susceptibility. (For example, a person carrying a mutation in the BRCA2 gene.)
  • Other inherited conditions that may affect risk include Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Familial Atypical Multiple Mole melanoma, hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer and hereditary pancreatitis.

Learn more about Pancreatic Cancer


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