Key Points about Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer
- Metastatic pancreatic cancer begins in the pancreas and then spreads to other areas of the body.
- Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exams to diagnose this type of cancer.
- Treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer may include surgery, targeted therapy and/or chemotherapy.
The pancreas is an organ located in the lower part of your stomach. The pancreas releases enzymes for the digestive process and produces hormones that enable your body to regulate blood sugar. Metastatic pancreatic cancer begins in the pancreas and then spreads to other areas of the body.
The most common areas to which pancreatic cancer spreads are:
Metastatic pancreatic cancer causes
Metastatic pancreatic cancer occurs when cancer spreads from the pancreas to other areas of the body.
Metastatic pancreatic cancer risk factors
Factors that can increase your risk for developing metastatic pancreatic cancer include:
- Being a smoker
- Being obese
- Being older than age 65
- Having a BRCA2 gene mutation
- Having a family history of pancreatic cancer
- Having a personal or family history of Lynch syndrome
- Having diabetes
- Having familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM)
- Having pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas)
Metastatic pancreatic cancer symptoms
General signs and symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer may include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin)
- Lower back pain
- Unintentional weight loss
More specific symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer vary depending on where the cancer has spread. Symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Abnormal liver enzymes
Symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer that has spread to the bone include:
- Bone pain
- Frequent bone fractures
Symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer that has spread to the bile duct include:
- Lump underneath the ribcage that can be felt from outside the body
Metastatic pancreatic cancer diagnosis
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam – including asking questions about your health history, your symptoms and related risk factors.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the cancer.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the cancer.
Metastatic pancreatic cancer treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
- Chemotherapy – you may need to also undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Targeted therapy – this treatment involves taking medications that target specific weaknesses of the cancerous cells, working to destroy them.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.