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Jacob, 46, from Nigeria was rushed into the emergency unit in excruciating pains around his stomach area. His wife claimed she had also noticed the weight loss and increased urination, especially at night, and the yellow eye discoloration. She also claimed that his urine had become dark with a fruity smell, and there appeared to be an increase in his abdominal size. After series of diagnostic tests and examinations, he was diagnosed of pancreatic cancer.

What is Pancreatic Cancer? Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine which produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.

It is also commonly misdiagnosed with other gastrointestinal conditions.



Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all cancers – just 3-6% of those diagnosed survive for five years according to the European Cancer patient coalition. Pancreatic cancer is the twelfth most common cancer in the world, with 338,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012 making it the 7th most common cause of cancer death across the world. Pancreatic cancer is more common in developed countries but it is on the rise in developing countries like Africa and India. It is nearly always diagnosed too late with 80% of pancreatic cancer patients having terminal disease with an average life expectancy of a mere 4-6 months.


Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in men than in women, usually occurring after age 45. Pancreatic cancer’s tendency to spread silently before diagnosis makes it one of the most deadly cancer diagnosis.




Pancreatic cancer is classified according to which part of the pancreas is affected: the part that makes digestive substances (exocrine) or the part that makes insulin and other hormones (endocrine).

  • Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer

Although there are several different types of exocrine pancreatic cancer, 95% of cases are due to pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Other less common exocrine pancreatic cancers include:

  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Giant cell carcinoma
  • Acinar cell carcinoma
  • Small cell carcinoma
  • The exocrine pancreas makes up 95% of the pancreas, so it’s not surprising that most pancreatic cancers arise here.



  1. Endocrine Pancreatic Cancer: Other cells of the pancreas make hormones that are released directly into the bloodstream (endocrine system). Cancerous tumors arising from these cells are called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell tumors. Endocrine pancreatic cancers are uncommon, and are named according to the type of hormone produced.




Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. They may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back.
  • Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Depression
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood clots often in the leg (Deep venous thrombosis)
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice), as the cancer easily spreads to the liver.



There is no known way to prevent pancreatic cancer, however some factors have been noted to predispose to the condition.

  • Cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for pancreatic cancer: Smoking roughly doubles the risk for pancreatic cancer when compared to non-smokers.
  • Diabetes is another risk factor for pancreatic cancer as the two have been linked.
  • Age (from around 45 years)
  • Race
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer.

Prevention will be aimed at minimizing the risk which predispose to the condition. Studies show that not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.





Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer as well as on overall health and personal preferences. For most people, the first goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to eliminate the cancer, when possible. When that isn’t an option, the focus may be on improving quality of life and preventing the cancer from growing or causing more harm.


Pancreatic cancer is treated in several ways, alone or in combination:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Palliative care


Surgery is generally done to attempt to cure pancreatic cancer, but it may also be done to lessen or prevent symptoms.


Chemotherapy and radiation are often given together, prior to, after, or even without surgery, to slow pancreatic cancer growth.

Palliative care aims to reduce discomfort for people whose pancreatic cancer cannot be cured.






Dimeji-Ajayi Olamide

LNA Media Team








Lead Nurse Africa is a Pan-African nursing organization dedicated to public health promotion and professional development.


    1. You’re most welcome. We do appreciate you reading. Do register for the upcoming International Nursing and Midwifery Ghana Conference, if you haven’t. The registration page is at the right top corner of this page.

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