As with most other types of cancer, pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in the pancreas begin to grow and divide at an abnormal and uncontrolled rate, forming one or several growths called tumors. However, normal cells should only grow and divide when the body needs to replace them because others have died out.
The reasons why pancreatic cancer occurs are not fully understood; it is estimated that 5 to 10% of pancreatic cancer cases can be attributed to genetic or hereditary factors, however, the rest of the cases seem to occur at random.
There are a few factors that may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, including obesity, diabetes, smoking, eating processed meats, and being over the age of 60. However, a direct relationship between pancreatic cancer and these factors has yet to be established.
Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed through a combination of clinical history, imaging tests to look for any tumors or masses in or around the pancreas, lab tests, and a biopsy of any masses that were found.
Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer doesn’t produce many symptoms until it has reached a very advanced stage so it is very hard to diagnose it early. This is one of the reasons why this is one of the most aggressive types of cancer. It is estimated that 23% of individuals survive one year after the diagnosis, and only 8% are living five years post-diagnosis.