Why is pancreatic cancer so dangerous?

By Salome Phelamei | Updated: Mar 03, 2014, 22:02 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Salome Phelamei

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant tumour originating from transformed cells arising in tissues forming the pancreas. It often has a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed early.

Pancreatic cancer is so dangerous because it generally grows and spreads silently before it's discovered, and which is a major reason why it's a leading cause of cancer death.


The pancreas is a six-inch long gland and lies between stomach and spine. It makes digestive juices (that break down food so that it can be absorbed into your body) and insulin (that controls the level of sugar in your blood).

Signs and symptoms

Since pancreatic cancer goes undetected until it is in advanced stage, signs and symptoms only occur after the cancer begins to spread and grow. Common symptoms may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain that typically radiates to your back
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Heart burn
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea, loose stools


While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not clear, smoking is believed to be the major risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Other risk factors include - age, race, family history, diabetes, excess body weight.


Although there are no established guidelines to prevent pancreatic cancer, one can take steps that may reduce its risk.

Quit smoking: The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests quitting smoking as cigarette smoking has been reported as accountable for 20-30% pancreatic cancers. If you smoke, quit it immediately. If you do not smoke, don't ever do it.

Maintain a healthy weight: Daily exercise combined with a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can help maintain a healthy weight.

Fruits and vegetables: An increase in intake of fruits and vegetables and whole grains while cutting back on red meat consumption may reduce the risk of cancer.