When he passed away on October 5, 2011 Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs drew a lot of attention to pancreatic cancer, the disease that likely took his life.

"There are several types of pancreatic cancers. Steve Jobs had an uncommon type, called a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour (PNET). The most common type of pancreatic cancer, called ductal adenocarcinoma, is more aggressive. Another type, which is increasingly being diagnosed is cystic cancers of the pancreas," says Professor Pierce Chow, Senior Consultant, Division of Surgical Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

The pancreas is the large elongated organ that lies deep in the upper abdomen, sandwiched between the stomach and the spine.

Why is the pancreas so important? First, it secretes insulin and glucagon, two hormones that regulate the body’s blood sugar levels. Secondly, it produces digestive enzymes that help break down food into nutrients for easy absorption.​

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Patients are usually diagnosed at the advanced stage, as early stage pancreatic cancer often doesn’t have obvious symptoms.

“When a cancerous growth blocks the pancreatic duct, digestive enzymes are not released into the intestinal tract. Notable discomforts include indigestion, bloating, and oily/fatty bowel movements,” says Professor Chow.

If the tumour blocks the bile duct, a yellowing of the skin, called jaundice, occurs.

Other potential symptoms that shouldn’t be overlooked include the following:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite

Read on to learn how to reduce risks and treatment options for pancreatic cancer.

​​ ​Ref: Q15