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Alvleesklier / Pancreas

In pancreatic cancer the uncontrolled cell division almost always started in the pancreatic ducts. And a malignant tumour (malicious growth) occurs. In most cases the tumour is at the head of the pancreas, the part that is closest to the duodenum. Malicious means: • the cancer cells can invade another body tissue; • the cancer can spread throughout the body through blood and lymphatic vessels (“seeding”). When pancreatic cancer spreads, it usually spreads to the liver and peritoneum first and sometimes the lungs. The site of the Maag Lever Darm Stichting (Digestive Diseases Foundation) provides more information. The brochure of KWF gives good information about the disease itself, but also on the functioning of the pancreas.

Who can get pancreatic cancer?

Each year approximately 1,750 persons in the Netherlands are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease is more common in men than in women. Most patients are over 60 years. The cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. Anyone can get it, although fortunately the chances of developing pancreatic cancer are small. There is no prescription to stay save from pancreatic cancer. Although there are a number of risk factors: • Smoking • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas • In about 1 to 5% of people with pancreatic cancer is the disease caused by a genetic predisposition. In these patients heredity is the (main) cause of pancreatic cancer. Besides pancreatic cancer, other cancers occur in people with genetic predisposition, such as skin cancer (melanoma) or breast cancer. The most common conditions are: • Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome • The Peutz-Jeghers syndrome • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancers as a result of a BRCA gene mutation • Hereditary pancreatic cancer If based on your specific details and / or your family data heredity may play a role for you, your doctor will discuss this with you. You may then be referred to the clinical geneticist. For genetic testing you can find more information on the Cancer and heredity page.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Early pancreatic cancer shows few symptoms. As a result, the disease is often detected late. Various symptoms may occur. Which symptoms occur depend on the localisation of the tumour and the size of the tumour. When metastases occur they can also cause complaints of the organs that are affected. Complaints that may arise in pancreatic cancer are: • Nagging abdominal pain or back pain • Loss of appetite and nausea • Unexplained weight loss • Altered bowel habits • Jaundice These complaints do not solely indicate pancreatic cancer. They can also be caused by other conditions. If you have these symptoms for more than three weeks, you should go to your general practitioner. If necessary, the general practitioner will refer you to a specialist. This is usually a physician in Internal Medicine or Gastroenterology.