Early detection of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the malignant tumors that are often recognized too late. The main reason is that the initially harmless signs are not associated with such a serious illness. Only when the symptoms are very severe do thorough examinations lead to diagnosis. With advanced pancreatic cancer, the prognosis is rather poor. Therefore, it is necessary to deal with the possible causes and the signs. This is especially true for people who have pancreatic cancer in their families. Every year, around 16,000 people in Germany contract new pancreatic cancer. The numbers are increasing due to better life expectancy, because it affects men and women between the ages of 60 and 80 in particular.

Course of the disease in pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is in the upper abdomen. It consists of head, body and tail. As a gland, it is the production site for hormones and enzymes that are vital. The cancer develops in most cases from the glandular tissue. The doctor then speaks of an adenocarcinoma. The head of the pancreas and the cells that produce the digestive juices (exocrine glands) are almost always affected. The endocrine tissue is less likely to develop cancer. Then the Langerhans Islands are affected, which are mainly involved in sugar metabolism. The symptoms depend on which part of the pancreas is affected.

Signs of pancreatic cancer

It is rare that symptoms appear in the beginning. Possible signs are:

  • Decreasing hunger
  • weight loss
  • stomach pain
  • back pain

The abdominal pain can also appear at night and shine in the back. These signs are similar to those of gastrointestinal disease. For this reason, you should see a doctor if the symptoms persist. Weight loss is another important alarm signal. If the exocrine gland tissue is affected and the tumor spreads, symptoms also appear in the neighboring tissue, so that further signals appear. May be affected:

  • gallbladder
  • Duodenum
  • spleen
  • peritoneum

Unspecific abdominal discomfort should definitely be presented to a doctor. Even this will probably not initially consider the possibility of pancreatic cancer. This is also because other abdominal disorders are far more common. There may be indications of a gallbladder disease because it is also affected. Then there are disorders in fat digestion. The patient observes so-called fat stools. The chair shines, it can also be significantly lighter and soft. A strikingly unpleasant smell would also be typical. If the tumor moves the bile duct, the bile can no longer drain. As a result, the bile accumulates in the body. The result is yellowing of the skin. This becomes particularly clear in the eye. Itching all over the body, the urine also turns dark. This process does not necessarily have to be painful. This distinguishes the symptoms from gallstones that block the bile duct.

Stages of pancreatic cancer

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage the patient is in. To determine the stage, tissue must be removed from the pancreas. The doctor makes a distinction

  • T (tumor size)
  • N (lymph node involvement)
  • M (metastasis)

The cancer is divided into five stages (0 to IV). In the first stage, the tumor is only in the pancreas. In the last stage, it has already formed metastases, which can also be detected far from the tumor. Adenocarcinoma grows particularly quickly and also spreads through the bloodstream and the lymph into the liver. Other organs are affected less often.

Examination methods for diagnosis

Pancreatic cancer is not palpable. If there are some signs that indicate a tumor, the doctor will initiate a series of examination procedures to make a diagnosis. This includes blood tests and ultrasound. As pancreatic cancer interferes with the metabolism, some blood values ​​change. Computer tomography is also performed. These procedures provide security relatively quickly. However, it is also possible to carry out an endoscopy, in which the stomach, intestine, bile duct and pancreatic duct are examined.

With research against pancreatic cancer

It is important for the successful treatment of pancreatic cancer that the disease must be recognized early. If the increasingly severe symptoms appear, the cancer is already very advanced. Education also plays a crucial role in this. This includes providing comprehensive information about risk factors to those who have to be classified as particularly at risk. It can now be assumed that pancreatic cancer can occur more often in families if there is a genetic disposition. So far, however, it has not been possible to clarify this by means of a blood test. Therefore, people are considered particularly at risk if at least two direct relatives have pancreatic cancer. You are then required to undergo regular check-ups. MRI and ultrasound are particularly suitable for this. You are also advised not to smoke, to exercise enough and not to eat too fat.


The advancement of research into pancreatic cancer gives reason to believe that the disease can be identified more quickly in the future. Preventive measures also contribute to early detection.


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