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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of gastrointestinal cancer that develops in the cells of the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach.

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How your pancreas makes a big impact on your digestive health

Think of the pancreas as an orchestra conductor. It makes sure important parts of your digestive system, like blood sugar, digestion and metabolism, stay on beat. When that rhythm is disrupted by cancerous cells in the pancreas, it can have serious effects on your health.

Receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis can feel like a heavy weight to bear, but you don’t have to carry it alone. You count on us to address your condition from physical, mental and emotional angles. Everyone on your care team is working toward the same goal: to map a treatment path that leads to a greater quality of life.

Robert Martell, MD, PhD (Director of the Neely Center for Clinical Cancer Research and Leader of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at Tufts Medical Center), discusses treatment options with patient during an appointment.
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Pancreatic cancer is a form of gastrointestinal cancer that often develops without showing any early symptoms. If you notice 1 or more of these symptoms, talk with your doctor or gastroenterologist as soon as possible:

Dark yellow urine
Digestive problems
Loss of appetite
Pain in the upper abdomen
Sudden weight loss
White stool


Detecting pancreatic cancer in its early stages is challenging because of where the pancreas sits deep inside the abdomen. We can perform different tests — blood tests, imaging tests and biopsies — to better understand your condition and stage of pancreatic cancer.

Blood tests 

When your doctor suspects you're living with pancreatic cancer, blood tests are helpful methods to provide the answers you need. Keep in mind that blood tests aren't screening tools that help detect cancer before it develops.

No single blood test alone can diagnose pancreatic cancer, so we usually order several. Some tests, known as tumor markers, measure the protein levels produced by cancer cells.

Imaging tests

Our radiology team specializes in detecting and diagnosing diseases like pancreatic cancer. Some of the imaging tests commonly used to diagnose pancreatic cancer include:


Your doctor may order a biopsy of your pancreas to evaluate if cancerous cells are present. A biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample from your pancreas that your doctor then examines under a microscope for cancerous cells.



Because pancreatic cancer doesn't often show early signs or symptoms, many people may not know they're living with cancer until it has spread to other parts of the body. So, we brought together the brightest minds in medicine to cover your wellness from all aspects. We'll meet you where you are to slow or stop cancer growth.

Your care plan will be tailored to your cancer type, health history and lifestyle. Common treatment options for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Surgery to remove part or all of the pancreas using the least invasive method available
  • Chemotherapy to slow the growth of a pancreatic tumor or stop new tumors from developing
  • Radiation therapy to shrink large pancreatic tumors or prevent new tumors in a particular area of the body

We can also connect you with the latest treatment innovations through our clinical trials.

Nutrition therapy

People with pancreatic cancer will find that eating isn't as easy as before because of a lack of appetite, nausea or vomiting. A high-calorie, high-protein diet can help you control weight and maintain strength.

Whether you need a feeding tube or guidance from a registered dietitian, we'll tailor your nutrition therapy to make sure you stay nourished. 



How many people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States each year?

More than 37,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. It’s the 4th leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

Smokers are 2–3 times more likely to get pancreatic cancer than nonsmokers. Pancreatic cancer is also known to have a genetic link to it, meaning that certain families are at higher risk.

It’s important to know your family’s health history so you can prepare for pancreatic cancer screening or early detection tests.

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