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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is responsible for approximately 3% of all cancers in America; however, it is generally asymptomatic until it has grown to a large size or metastasized.

Pancreatic cancer is responsible for approximately 3% of all cancers in America; however, it is generally asymptomatic until it has grown to a large size or metastasized.


Pancreatic cancer is responsible for around 7% of all cancer mortalities, and is marginally more common in men than it is in women. One’s average lifetime risk of developing the disease is 1 in 641

Common tests for pancreatic cancer include CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs2 It is important to note, however, that CT scans expose you to potentially harmful radiation3


In general, pancreatic cancer is asymptomatic until the tumor is quite large, or perhaps until it has metastasized. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include4

  • Back or stomach pain
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Low appetite/weight loss
  • Blood clots
  • Liver or gallbladder enlargement
  • Diabetes

It is important to note that many of the above symptoms could also be caused by other conditions.

If you are having any of the above symptoms you need to talk to a doctor about the appropriate diagnostic work up. The Ezra scan is a screening test for asymptomatic individuals and it is not designed to diagnose existing or suspected cancers.


It is difficult for researchers to pinpoint precisely what causes pancreatic cancer, though they do know that pancreatic cancer originates in genetic changes, or mutations, found in the DNA of normal pancreatic cells. Sometimes, these mutations can occur in oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, which are the genes in charge of when cells grow, divide, or die. Such mutations can be at least in part responsible for cancer and can be inherited from one’s parents or picked up randomly during one’s life5

Genetic mutations inherited from our parents could be responsible for up to 10% of all pancreatic cancers. Some genes known to result in an increased risk of pancreatic cancer when mutated include:

  • BRCA1 and BRCA2. These are also known as the “breast cancer genes,” because they are known to cause an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • PRSS1. This generally causes a condition known as familial pancreatitis.
  • PALB2. This causes hereditary breast cancer.
  • MLH2 and MSH2. Mutations in these genes often cause a condition known as Lunch syndrome.
  • STK11. A mutation in this gene causes Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, which is linked with digestive tract polyps and many other cancers.
  • CDKN2A/p16. This causes familial atypical multiple mole melanoma.

Other risk factors known to increase your likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer include:

  • Chemical exposure
  • Being overweight
  • Tobacco use
  • Older age
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Having diabetes
  • Being of African American descent



If it is suspected you have pancreatic cancer, your doctor may first perform a physical exam, feeling your gallbladder and liver for swelling and checking your skin and the whites of your eyes for jaundice. If your exam turns out to be abnormal, it’s highly likely that your next step will involve an imaging test, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, PET scan, or MRI6

A 2017 study on a large population made up of diverse patients showed that MRI performed identically or better than PET, CT, or ultrasounds in detecting pancreatic cancers7 Furthermore, MRIs don’t expose you to potentially damaging radiation, while PET and CT scans do8 9


After a case of pancreatic cancer is detected, your doctor will have to take a biopsy of the tumor to pinpoint an exact diagnosis10 This can be performed a number of ways:

  • A CT-guided needle biopsy, in which a specialist uses a CT scan to guide a biopsy needle into a tumor.
  • An endoscopic ultrasound, which involves attaching an ultrasound probe to the tip of an endoscope.


After analyzing your biopsy and imaging results, your doctor will assign a stage to your cancer, most likely based off the TNM system:

  • T is for tumor: how large is the tumor, and has it grown beyond the pancreas and into blood vessels nearby?
  • N is for lymph nodes: has the cancer spread to nearby lymph nodes, and if so, how many of them?
  • M is for metastasis: has the cancer spread to distant lymph nodes, organs, or bones?


Blood tests also help in the diagnostic process, though they cannot tell you if you have pancreatic cancer, but rather help determine the best treatment route:

  • Tumor marker tests: CA 19-9 and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)
  • Liver function tests



The best treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the nature of the disease and how far it has spread. Treatment options for the disease may include: surgery, radiation, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and ablation/embolization11

Please consult with a physician on treatment options as necessary.

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