What is Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 20 June 2019
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Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is the most common type of malignancy or cancer that occurs in the pancreas. Often simply called pancreatic cancer, it is often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, which often means the death of the patient in less than three years. Definite cause of pancreatic adenocarcinoma is still unknown; however, some risk factors can increase the likelihood its development. These include genetic predisposition, cigarette smoking, a diet high in fats and meats, diabetes mellitus, and an incidence of chronic pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas.

Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur in elderly people between the ages of 60 and 80. It is not commonly seen in people younger than 40 years old. The incidence of adenocarcinoma of the pancreas is higher in males compared to the female population.

Usually, the first symptom in pancreatic adenocarcinoma is pain; however, by the time pain in pancreatic cancer manifests, it is often very late for cure. Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes also accompany pain in some patients. Most of the time, when pancreatic adenocarcinoma is found, the cancer has already spread to other sites of the body. Signs and symptoms that the cancer is rapidly progressing are weight loss, whole body weakness, and loss of appetite.


Endoscopic ultrasonography, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are diagnostic tests which can help physicians visualize the pancreas and determine the stage of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Staging of the cancer is often essential for the management and treatment of cancer patients. It shows if the cancer can still be removed by surgery, if it is not removable but has not spread to other parts of the body, or if it has already spread.

Treatment includes surgery for localized tumors which have not spread to other parts of the body, generally followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Most adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, however, are not removable, as diagnosis is often late and the cancer has spread to other sites inside the body. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma can spread to adjacent organs such as the spleen, stomach, intestines, and spine. It can also spread to the lungs and bones.

Cancer of the pancreas is frequently fatal, and patients have very slim chances of survival. A screening test for early detection of pancreatic adenocarcinoma is still not available. Tumor markers, such as carcinoembyonic antigen (CEA) and CA 19-9, are usually elevated in pancreatic adenocarcinoma; however, they are also elevated in many other conditions, thus they cannot be utilized as screening tools for cancer of the pancreas.



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