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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer starts in the cells of the pancreas, which is part of the digestive system and hormonal system. The pancreas makes digestive juices to help break down food.

There are several types of pancreatic cancer:

  • Ductal adenocarcinoma is the most common type of pancreatic cancer, which starts in cells of the pancreatic duct.
  • There are rare types such as adenosquamous carcinoma and pancreatic neuroendocrine carcinoma.

What’s on this Page

You will find Cancer Care Ontario information, resources and tools for:

  • patients, families and caregivers
  • anyone interested in pancreatic cancer
  • healthcare providers

You will also find links to other organizations that provide information related to pancreatic cancer.

Prevention

There are 2 main things you can do to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer:

Do Not Smoke

Tobacco smoking accounts for 15% to 20% of pancreatic cancers diagnosed in Ontario. It may take several tries to quit smoking. If you’ve tried to quit in the past and have started smoking again, don’t give up. Each time you try to quit, you get closer to your goal of being smoke-free forever.

To find information on how to quit smoking visit:

Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you’re not at a healthy weight, losing even a small amount of weight can help lower the risk to your health. Small changes in your diet and physical activity may be enough to help you become healthier.

Diagnosis

During diagnosis, a person may need many tests to confirm the cancer. Waiting for test results to come back can be stressful. Talk to your doctor about managing stress during this difficult time.

For information about diagnostic tests for pancreatic cancer, you can visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Treatment

Treatment for pancreatic cancer will depend on:

  • the type of cancer
  • the stage of cancer
  • which treatments and services the person chooses to have

Treatments may include:

  • surgery
  • drug therapy (chemotherapy)
  • radiation therapy
  • other treatment options
  • clinical drug trials

To learn more about types of pancreatic cancer treatment, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Drug Therapy Information

You can learn more about specific cancer drugs using our patient information sheets. These provide information about cancer drug therapies, including what they are used for and how to manage side effects. To find patient information sheets, go to the Drugs page.

You can also see About Chemotherapy for general information about cancer drug therapy.

Quitting Smoking Can Help Your Treatment

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Whether you are scheduled to have surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy, quitting smoking can help your treatment work better. It also can reduce the chance of your cancer coming back or getting another form of cancer. For more information and resources, see Benefits of Quitting Smoking for People with Cancer.

Managing Symptoms and Side Effects

People with cancer may have symptoms related to their cancer or as a side effect of treatment.

Our symptom management guides explain:

  • how to recognize symptoms
  • what to do and what not to do
  • when to contact the person’s healthcare team

The guides are available for patients and for healthcare providers. Each patient guide also comes with links to helpful resources like courses, books, videos and worksheets.

Our side effect information sheets offer tips for people going through side effects from chemotherapy treatment.

If you are a person with cancer, please remember that it’s important to discuss any symptoms or concerns with your healthcare team.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are scientific studies that test the safety and effectiveness of a medical treatment. Find clinical trials in Canada.

Palliative Care

Palliative care supports people with life-threatening illness and their families. The goal of this care is to relieve suffering so people can have the best possible quality of life. Palliative care should start when a person is diagnosed with a serious illness.

To learn more, go to the Palliative Care page.

After Treatment

When treatment ends, a person moves into a new phase of their cancer experience. For many patients, a lot of the after-treatment care will be given by healthcare providers in the community, like a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

Follow-Up Care

Follow-up care is the care given after active treatment for pancreatic cancer is over. It focuses on:

  • helping the person recover from the cancer and treatments
  • finding cancer early if it comes back

To learn more about follow-up care, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Managing Ongoing Symptoms

A person may have symptoms from cancer for months or years after treatment has ended. These are called long-term effects or late effects.

If you have ongoing symptoms after being treated for cancer, you can find information on how to manage them in our Symptom and Side Effect Management guides.

To better understand the late or long-term effects of cancer treatment, visit the Canadian Cancer Society for a helpful overview.

End-of-Life Care

Each person has a different experience during their final months and days of life. Their symptoms may change as their illness continues, and their needs for information and support will be unique. Family members will also have questions, concerns and needs of their own.

If you are helping a family member through their final months of life, talk to your healthcare team about your questions and concerns as they come up. They can give you information and resources to support you and your family, and help you make decisions and plan for end-of-life care.

For more information, go to the Palliative Care page.

Facts

  • In 2013, there were 1,878 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in Ontario, making it the 13th most common cancer. There were also 1,711 deaths from pancreatic cancer, making it the 4th leading cause of cancer death.
  • Pancreatic cancer causes more deaths than prostate cancer, and almost as many deaths as breast cancer.
  • Survival for pancreatic cancer is among the lowest of all cancers. People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are 9.5% as likely to survive 5 years after diagnosis compared to similar people in the general population.