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What is pancreatic cancer?

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Quick Answer

Pancreatic cancer is the presence of malignant cells on the pancreas, WebMD states. As this cancer spreads rapidly, it is difficult to treat. Most patients present symptoms late into the disease, making it harder to treat.

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Full Answer

The pancreas is an organ that assists with digestion by producing and secreting digestive enzymes. In addition, it produces insulin, which mobilizes glucose into cells. In the U.S., pancreatic cancer is the fourth highest cause of cancer-related deaths, as reported by Healthline. Although the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, certain risk factors make it more likely to happen. These include smoking, being obese and not exercising regularly, eating a lot of fat, drinking a lot of alcohol and having diabetes. In addition, those who are African American, people with a family history of the disease and those who suffer from pancreatic inflammation are more likely to suffer from it.

Symptoms of the disease include a low appetite, jaundice, depression, blood clots and pain in the back and abdomen. Depending on how far the cancer has progressed, the patient may have surgery to remove part of their pancreas, as well as part of the stomach, and many also have radiation therapy and chemotherapy. As many do not receive a diagnosis before the cancerous cells spread beyond the pancreas, the outlook is often poor.

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