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Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Pancreatic cancer is common, and a frequent cause of cancer death in the United States.

It is an aggressive cancer that often has a poor prognosis. At the time of diagnosis, more than 80 percent of patients have advanced tumors that have spread beyond the pancreas. Most patients die within a year of diagnosis.

Researchers are still unclear about what causes pancreatic cancer. Tobacco use appears to be the most important risk factor.


The most common symptom is upper abdominal pain, which may also be felt in the back. Many patients say that the pain diminishes when they lean forward. Other common symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, and anorexia. Some people get jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes. In some cases, dark urine and greyish stools may be seen.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking
  • Age: Pancreatic cancer is rare before age 45, but the incidence increases thereafter.
  • Family history: About 5 percent to 10 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer have a first–degree relative with the disease.
  • Genetics: Mutations in several genes, including the breast cancer genes (BRCA–1, BRCA–2), appear to increase the risk.
  • Obesity
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Dietary factors (see Nutritional Considerations)


Pancreatic Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment >>