Pancreatic Cancer: Why Risk Factors Are As Vital As Symptoms

September 21, 2021

Abdominal Pain Symptoms

Cancer covers a plethora of illnesses characterised by uncontrolled cell multiplication that leads to abnormal growth of tissues or a malignant (cancerous) tumour. These tumours can infect and destroy other healthy tissues, spreading cancer to other parts of the patient’s body.

Among the different categories of cancer, pancreatic cancer ranks as one of the fatal cancer illnesses. Although commonly diagnosed at a late stage and incurable, pancreatic cancer is curable during the early stages.

Should your body begin to manifest symptoms that can indicate the presence of pancreatic cancer, it’s recommended to seek medical advice and treatment for recovery. Here’s all you need to know about this illness and how to steer clear of its development.

What is pancreatic cancer

Located behind your stomach, your pancreas is a vital organ consisting of two types of glands. The function of the first gland is to produce insulin and other hormones needed by the body – but cancers of this gland are rare. On the other hand, the other gland that produces digestive hormones is more susceptible to abnormal cell division, leading to pancreatic cancer.

In the past forty years, the prevalence of pancreatic cancer has increased significantly, standing as the fifth cause of cancer deaths in Singapore. This is because the symptoms are often non-specific or vague. While the following are some of the common symptoms, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention to be informed on the appropriate diagnostic methods of pancreatic cancer, the subsequent treatment and the pancreatic cancer treatment costs in Singapore.

Several tell-tale indicators of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Abdominal pain that can radiate to your back
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of eyes)
  • Constant fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

Risk factors of pancreatic cancer

Currently, the causes behind pancreatic cancer are unclear. While risk factors do not directly cause the growth of cancerous cells in your body, they can influence the development of this illness. Knowing the risk factors is especially crucial because the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are typically non-specific or arise during the later stages of the illness.

  • Smoking

One of the top risk factors that contributes to pancreatic cancer is smoking. Studies have shown that carcinogenic compounds in cigarette smoke can stimulate pancreatic cancer progression through cell inflammation and damage to the tissues within. Individuals who smoke tobacco are approximately two to three times more likely to contract pancreatic cancer.

  • Obesity

Obese individuals are also more susceptible to pancreatic cancer. That’s because higher fat content in the patient’s body can induce the production of more hormones and other growth factors – increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer. To reduce this risk factor, it’s recommended to keep a healthy diet and lifestyle, keeping your BMI (Body Mass Index) below 30.

  • Family history

If a first-degree family member has contracted pancreatic cancer before or has a history of genetic syndrome related to the disease, your risk of the cancer is also higher. Should you have such a family history, it’s extremely vital to attend regular medical screenings.

  • Pancreatitis

Long term pancreatitis or chronic inflammation of the pancreas is another possible cause of the disease. To reduce your likelihood of pancreatitis and hence pancreatic cancer, it’s best to avoid a heavy alcohol intake.

Diagnosis and treatment options

The diagnosis for pancreatic cancer depends on the tumour’s size, type, as well as its development at that stage. The earlier the disease is detected, the higher the chances of recovery. In fact, up to ten per cent of patients who receive an early diagnosis are cured upon seeking immediate pancreatic cancer treatment. As such, it’s always best to schedule regular healthcare checkups to detect (if any) cancer in your system.

If cancer has been confirmed, you can expect treatment that includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. During the early stages of the diagnosis, a surgical procedure is usually necessary to remove the tumour embedded in your pancreas and prevent the cancer cells from spreading.

On the other hand, if the cancer is terminal, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are possible solutions to slow down the progress of cancer. Chemotherapy involves utilising drugs to eliminate the cancerous cells in your body, while radiation therapy relies on X-rays to destroy the infected cells. In some cases, chemotherapy might be performed first to shrink the tumour down to a size that is removable during surgery.


If you suspect a display of the various symptoms of pancreatic cancer, coupled with some of the risk factors, it’s best to seek medical help immediately to avoid further cancer complications. An early diagnosis can also provide you with a broader range of treatment options to boost your recovery.