What causes cancer of the pancreas?
While it can seldom be explained why one person gets pancreatic cancer and another doesn’t, it is clear that the disease is not contagious. No one can “catch” cancer from another person.
Although scientists do not know exactly what causes cancer of the pancreas, they are learning that some things increase a person’s chance of getting this disease. Smoking is a major risk factor. Research shows that cigarette smokers develop cancer of the pancreas two to three times more often than nonsmokers. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, and a number of other diseases.
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What are symptoms and signs of cancer of the pancreas?
Pancreatic cancer has been called a “silent” disease because early pancreatic cancer usually does not cause symptoms. If the tumor blocks the common bile duct and bile cannot pass into the digestive system, the skin and whites of the eyes may become yellow, and the urine may become darker. This condition is called jaundice.
As the cancer grows and spreads, pain often develops in the upper abdomen and sometimes spreads to the back. The pain may become worse after the person eats or lies down. Cancer of the pancreas can also cause nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and weakness.
A rare type of pancreatic cancer, called islet cell cancer, begins in the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin and other hormones. Islet cells are also called the islets of Langerhans. Islet cell cancer can cause the pancreas to produce too much insulin or hormones. When this happens, the patient may feel weak or dizzy and may have chills, muscle spasms, or diarrhea.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious problems. If an individual is experiencing symptoms, a doctor should be consulted.
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