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About the pancreas

pancreas image

Here are basic facts about the pancreas:

  • It produces digestive enzymes that help the body use and store energy while also regulating blood sugar levels
  • It is a large gland situated deep in the abdomen in between the stomach and the spine
  • It is about 15cm (6 inches) long and shaped a bit like a flattened pear or a tadpole
  • The widest part is called the head, which lies close to the duodenum (small intestine) on the right side of the abdomen, closely attached to the duodenum
  • The middle part is called the body
  • The thin part is the tail, which extends towards the left side of the body, next to the spleen
  • It is surrounded by a number of other large organs and blood vessels including the liver, stomach, spleen, intestines, left kidney, adrenal gland and gall bladder.
  • The pancreatic duct empties into the duodenum
  • The common bile duct, which carries bile from the liver, passes through the head of the pancreas to empty into the duodenum

What is pancreatic cancer?

DNA strand

When abnormal cells develop in the pancreas and grow out of control, they can create a tumor.  The cause of most pancreatic cancers is unknown and symptoms are usually subtle, often attributed to less serious medical conditions.  However, early detection is vital. Patients diagnosed in time for surgery are more likely to live five years and beyond. Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers – five-year survival rates are typically only in the single digits and in Canada are just a dismal 8 per cent.

  • Common symptoms of pancreas cancer
  • Symptoms of pancreas cancer may include:
  • abdominal or back pain
  • weight loss,
  • jaundice
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • changes in stool
  • diabetes

These symptoms are often subtle and are initially attributed to other less serious and more common conditions.

Pancreatic Cancer Global Facts

  • Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all major cancers. Globally, just 2-10 percent of those diagnosed survive five years (8 per cent in Canada;
  • It estimated  that 985 people across the globe will die from pancreatic cancer.today including 12 Canadians;
  • Pancreatic cancer is the 7th most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women across the world and the 4th leading cause of cancer death in Canada;
  • Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most common cancer in men and women around the world, with an estimated 418,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2016;
  • Fifty-five percent (55%) of pancreatic cancer cases were diagnosed in more developed countries in 2012. The highest incidence of pancreatic cancer was in North America and Europe; the lowest incidence was in Africa and Asia;
  • Incidence and mortality rates are increasing and declining for most other cancers;
  • Studies show that incidence and death rates for pancreatic cancer are increasing in the North America and Europe, while death rates are declining for most other cancers;
  • With no breakthroughs in detection and treatments, pancreatic cancer will become the second leading cause of death by 2020 surpassing both breast and colorectal cancers;
  • The cause of the majority of pancreatic cancer cases is unknown. For the few known risk factors (e.g., familial history, smoking, obesity, age), more research is needed to understand their direct relationship to the disease. The known behavioral factors impact only a minority of pancreatic cancer cases.