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The pancreas and pancreatic cancer

20 August 2020 Blog
Cancer care
The pancreas is an important organ to assist regulating your glucose and breaking down substances for digestion. General Surgeon Dr Mayank Bhandari, who specialises in liver and pancreatic disease management, explains what the pancreas does and an overview of pancreatic cancer.


  • The pancreas is an organ that is a part of digestive system. It is located behind the stomach and next to duodenum
  • It has two roles; secreting hormones, including insulin and glucagon, to regulate your blood sugar levels, and secreting enzymes into your digestive system to help breakdown of fats.

Conditions that impact the pancreas

The functioning of your pancreas can be affected by a range of conditions. The three most common are:

  1. Diabetes 
  2. Pancreatitis
  3. Pancreatic cancer

Diabetes and pancreatitis can be diagnosed through symptoms that correspond to the conditions. 

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously hard to diagnose because the organ itself is hidden behind other organs within your body, making it hard to see. In many cases symptoms do not appear in the early stages.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Symptoms are often not apparent until pancreatic cancer is large enough to effect or spread to other organs.

This can make it really difficult for doctors to diagnose.

If you do experience symptoms, the most common we see in pancreatic cancer are:

  • pain in the upper abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • change in your toilet habits, including diarrhoea or constipation
  • jaundice

Pancreatic cancer causes

Many of the things that cause pancreatic cancer are similar to risk factors for other cancers.

This includes smoking, age (it is more common in people aged over 65), diabetes, a family history of pancreatic, ovarian or colon cancer, and pancreatitis.

How to keep your pancreas healthy

Leading a healthy and active lifestyle is the best way you can reduce your risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer, or other pancreatic conditions.

Some tips that might help you include:

  • following a low fat diet
  • losing weight (if you are overweight) and stay fit
  • avoiding drinking too much alcohol
  • stopping smoking
  • getting a regular check-up from your GP.

If you are worried that you might have symptoms of pancreatic cancer or a related condition, your best first step it to speak to your GP.

They can complete a range of tests and if necessary, refer you to a specialist to complete further testing and treatment.

Mr Mayank Bhandari is a consultant hepato-pancreato-biliary and transplant surgeon at St John of God Murdoch Hospital and Fiona Stanley Hospital. He completed his surgical graduation and specialisation in India before coming to Australia in 2004. Since then he has contributed extensively in the management of liver and pancreatic diseases.

Mr Bhandari did a PhD in pancreatology at Flinders University, Adelaide. He was awarded with Paul McMaster Fellowship for advanced training in liver and pancreatic surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, UK.

He currently specialises in benign and malignant diseases of the liver, gallbladder and pancreas and does all General Surgical procedures. Patient-centred care in a multidisciplinary environment, which offers coordinated management of medical conditions and disease, is his focus.