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Pancreatic Cancer FAQs

“Steve Jobs’s islet-cell pancreatic cancer may have recurred. The American Cancer Society estimates that 37,680 Americans get pancreatic cancer each year, but few get islet-cell tumors of the kind Jobs had. “

– Dr. Roderich Schwarz

What is pancreas and what does it do?
The pancreas is a gland located deep in the bdomen and is also an integral part of the digestive system.

Pancreas produces insulin an other hormones. It helps the body to use or store the energy that comes from food. Pancreatic juices contain enzymes that help digest food.

What is pancreatic cancer?
A tumor that occurs in pancreatic cells that cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and become mutated. A tumor can destory other healthy cells.

What is a benign and malignant tumor?
A benign tumor is non cancerous and can be removed. It does not recur and does not spread to other body parts. 

A malignant tumor is cancerous, serious and deadly. It can spread to other body parts and harm other healthy cells there.

Where does pancreatic cancer begin?
It begins in the ducts that produce pancreatic juices.  

How does the cancer spread?
The cancer cells break away from malignant tumors and spread to other body organs through the lymphantic system or blood stream. Cancer cells form new tumor in other affected organ.

What is islet cell cancer?
The cancer that Apple’s Steve Jobs diagnosed with, is a rare type of pancreatic cancer that begins in the cells that make insulin and other hormones.

What are the risk factors?
No one knows the exact causes, but these are some possibilities:

  • Over 50 years of age
  • Men are 30% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer compare to women
  • Cigarette smokering
  • Unhealthy diet rich in meats and fat
  • Diabetic patient have higher chance of developing pancreatic cancer
  • People with chronic pancreatitis may also have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer
  • An inherited tendency to develop this cancer may be a factor in about 5 to 10 percent of cases 
  • Peptic ulcer surgery – Patients who have had a portion of their stomach removed (partial gastrectomy) appear to have an increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

What are the systoms?
Cancer of the pancreas is difficult to detect early. You should consult a doctor if you encounter:

  • Pain in upper abdomen
  • Jaundice, or when your skins and eyes turn yellow. Your urine darkens.
  • Weakness
  • Weight loos
  • Loss of apetite
  • Nausea and vomitting

How do my doctor perform diagnosis?
Your doctor will perform some physical exams and ask about your medical history. Several tests will be done including CT scanning, Ultrasonography and ERCP.

What are the treament?
3 kinds of treament will be used for pancreatic cancer:

  • surgery – remove the tumors and other cancerous cells in an operation
  • Radiation therapy – to kill cells with high doses of X-ray
  • Chemotheraphy – to kill cells with drug

What are the side effects of those treaments?

  • Surgery – you fell pain and fatigue
  • Radiation theraphy – permanent darkening on your skin in the treated area.
  • Chemotherapy – Tired and less energy, hair loss, nausea, loss apetite.

How do I cope with myself afterwards?
You will be given palliative theraphy, a treament to relieve the symptoms and reduce the suffering caused by cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

The main aim is to improve the quality of life.


1. The James, The Ohio State University

2. Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research

Warning: The content of this blog entry is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the advice of a physician.


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