The most common type of cancer of the pancreas is an adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. 85 percent of all cancerous tumors of the pancreas are adenocarcinomas. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that each year approximately 29,000 Americans are diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas and approximately 28,000 die of pancreatic cancer.
About 20-40 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer appear to have the cancer contained entirely within the pancreas at the time of the diagnosis. Surgical removal of the tumor is recommended in this group of patients and this provides the best option for long-term survival. Surgery for pancreatic cancer is a highly specialized operation and therefore the patient should be evaluated by a surgeon who is highly experienced in treating this disorder.
About 60-80 percent of the patients are found to have a locally advanced cancer because it is invading into the surrounding tissues outside the pancreas or where the cancer has metastasized (spread outside of the pancreas).
Some of the risk factors for cancer of the pancreas include:
- Cigarette smoking: Cigarette smoking is the single most risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Approximately 30 percent of pancreatic cancers are thought to be related to excessive cigarette smoking.
- Diet: A diet high in meat and fats increases pancreatic cancer risks, while fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber appear to have a protective effect.
- Diabetes mellitus: While it is not clear whether diabetes mellitus is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, often patients develop diabetes few months to three years prior to manifestation of their cancer. Development of diabetes in an elderly patient should raise concerns for pancreatic cancer and lead to a work up for pancreatic cancer.
- Chronic pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is long term inflammation of the pancreas. This condition is associated as an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.
- Family history: Cancer of the pancreas seems to run in some families. An inherited tendency to develop this cancer may occur in about 5 to 10 percent of all cases of pancreatic cancer. Some of the DNA changes that give rise to pancreatic cancer can be recognized by genetic testing.