Am I at risk of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer has developed a reputation for being very difficult to treat, particularly because it is difficult to diagnose early. We’ve put together this guide to help you spot the signs at the earliest possible point.

Old man

Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer in the UK, with around 9,400 of us diagnosed in 20131. There are several different kinds, although the most common type – pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma – makes up almost nine out of 10 diagnoses.

The pancreas is a large gland that sits behind your stomach, and it’s responsible for producing the hormones and enzymes we need to digest food and regulate the level of sugar in our blood, including insulin.

It does an absolutely vital job, and these functions will be affected if your pancreas isn’t working properly. Pancreatic cancer is one of many causes of a malfunctioning pancreas.

Facts and figures

Around 1 in 71 of us will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Men are slightly more likely to affected than women1.

Those of us with Caucasian and Afro-Caribbean ancestry are more likely to be affected than Asian people1.

The vast majority of cases (96%) are in those over 50, with around half (47%) affecting those over 751.

Estimates state that almost two in every five cases – 37% - are preventable and linked to lifestyle1.

Risk factors

There are all sorts of things that affect your likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer. Some of them are related to your genes, and some of them are related to your diet and lifestyle:

  • Age
  • A family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Belonging to blood group A
  • Being diagnosed with hepatitis B
  • Smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Being diagnosed with diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Long-term alcohol abuse and associated pancreatitis

What are the symptoms?

One of the things that makes diagnosing pancreatic cancer early difficult is that is often presents very few symptoms. 

One tell-tale sign is unexplained weight loss. This is because the pancreas affects your ability to digest food. If your pancreas is not working properly, you may not be getting the nutrients you need from your food and might lose weight as a consequence.

You may also notice a loss of appetite, changes to your bowel habits, nausea, jaundice or difficulty swallowing. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes and have lost weight, this can be a sign too.

Another common symptom is pain in your abdomen that then spreads backwards, coming and going from time to time before becoming more constant.

For some more information on the symptoms take a look at our pancreatic cancer infographic.

If you’re concerned for any reason, speak to a doctor as soon as possible. 

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 

or make an online enquiry.

Sources

1 http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/pancreatic-cancer

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