Pancreatic cancer symptoms are hard to find in the early stages of the disease.

Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ deep inside your body, between your stomach and your spine. When you’re healthy, cancer symptoms are hard for you or your doctor to notice because there is no easy way to feel or see your pancreas.

Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is the most common type of pancreatic cancer. It begins in the exocrine cells of the pancreas. This is where the pancreas makes enzymes that help you digest food.

Symptoms of pancreatic adenocarcinomainclude:

  • Jaundice, which is yellowing of your eyes and skin
  • Weight loss you didn’t expect
  • Back or belly pain
  • Loss of your appetite for food
  • Light-colored or fatty stool
  • Blood clots that cause pain and swelling, usually in your leg

All of these symptoms are more often caused by conditions that are not pancreatic cancer, but if you have them, you should tell your doctor.

Much less common than pancreatic adenocarcinoma are pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, which are a kind of neuroendocrine cancer.

Learn more about pancreatic cancers, who gets them, and how they are treated.

Doctors use a staging system to describe pancreatic cancer.

After diagnosing pancreatic cancer, doctors use a staging system of numbers indicating how much the cancer has grown and spread.

For pancreatic adenocarcinoma, the stages go from 0 to 4. You may sometimes see those numbers written as Roman numerals: 0, I (1), II (2), III (3), and IV (4).

The higher the number, the more advanced the cancer is, and the more it has spread.


People who have certain risk factors have a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer.

A risk factor is anything that increases the chance that you’ll get a disease. For pancreatic adenocarcinoma, some of the risk factors are:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Heavy drinking of alcohol
  • Having diabetes
  • A family history of the disease or inheriting certain genes from your parents
  • Having a condition called chronic pancreatitis
Pancreatic cancer treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

Each pancreatic cancer patient is different and will require a different type of treatment. The options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery, which may include:
    • Removal of the pancreas
    • Whipple procedure, which is a very complex surgery to remove cancer in the head of the pancreas

Holden’s pancreatic cancer experts can treat every kind of patient, including the ones who need the complex Whipple procedure.

At Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, our doctors understand pancreatic cancer and work as a team to design the best treatment plan, personalized for you and your specific type and stage of pancreatic cancer. Your team is made up of surgical, medical, and radiation oncology doctors who specialize in pancreatic cancer, along with gastroenterologists, genetic counselors, social workers, and nurses.

Our doctors also are cancer researchers who participate in studies of the latest therapies. We offer clinical trials of these promising new approaches to pancreatic cancer treatment, before they are widely available on the market.

Holden researchers are also actively involved in cutting-edge studies funded by the National Cancer Institute that are testing new ways to treat pancreatic cancer.

One study uses high doses of Vitamin C that are delivered intravenously to weaken cancer cells and make them easier for drugs and radiation to kill. Another uses nanovaccines to boost the body’s own immune system to help it find and kill cancer cells.

Cancer Care Clinics

Cancer Services-Quad Cities

1351 Kimberly Road
Suite 100
Bettendorf, Iowa 52722

University of Iowa Health Care Cancer Services-Quad Cities

Phone: 1-563-355-7733