Pancreatic Cancer Misdiagnosis

Pancreatic cancer, which can also be called exocrine cancer, begins when a cell within the tissue of the pancreas starts to mutate. The pancreas is the organ within the stomach that is responsible for the secretion of chemicals which help break down sugars and aid digestion, especially insulin. Pancreatic cancer is very dangerous because it is difficult to treat and cure, even when it is caught in early stages, and it often spreads rapidly. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer do not often show until the cancer has progressed to a point where surgery is not possible.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer Misdiagnosis

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can often be mistaken for other, less harmful diseases:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Jaundice
  • Weight loss
  • Severe upper abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Blood clots
  • Itchy skin
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea


A tumor in the pancreas will press on organs, causing pain that can be mistaken for the organ that is under pressure. Pancreatic cancer will also affect the digestive system in all aspects, from appetite to the way that nutrients are distributed. This can cause many further complications, such as malnutrition and fatigue.

Misdiagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer has the highest death rate of any type of cancer within the first year, as it is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. This problem falls to both doctors and patients. Patients often do not see a doctor for their symptoms until the pain is unbearable, delaying the diagnosis and making treatment more difficult. Doctors often suspect another cause of symptoms, and do not go through the diagnostic testing necessary to detect pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is often mistakenly diagnosed as many different diseases, including:

  • Pancreatic pseudocyst
  • Biliary stricture
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Cystic neoplasm
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Pancreatitis

Risk Factors and Causes of Pancreatic Cancer

While it is unclear exactly what causes pancreatic cancer, certain risk factors and lifestyle habits make people more prone to developing pancreatic cancer. African-American males are more prone to pancreatic cancer. Family history of cancer, especially pancreatic cancer, will increase a patient’s risk of developing the disease. Having diabetes also increases this risk.

Smoking, drinking, and unhealthy eating are lifestyle habits that may contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer. Smokers are about twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as non-smokers. Patients that have liver damage, usually from excessive alcohol use, are much more susceptible to pancreas cancer. Altering these lifestyle habits may help patients lower their risk for cancers, especially pancreatic cancer.

Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment for pancreatic cancer is highly individualized. Age, stage and location of the cancer, and patient’s health are all factors that may influence how a doctor will treat pancreatic cancer. If pancreatic cancer has been caught in early stages, surgery to remove the tumor or tumors may be effective. These types of surgery can be difficult, and require a highly skilled surgeon.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are commonly used to treat pancreatic cancer. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as x-rays, to destroy cancerous body cells. Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill these cancerous cells. This can be administered intravenously or in pill form.

A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to combat pancreatic cancer if surgery is not possible. In people with advanced pancreatic cancer, targeted therapy may also be combined with one of both of these treatments. In targeted therapy, a medication is given that attacks certain mutations within the cell, specifically the coding that allows the cell to reproduce in many cases.

Clinical trials are continuously being conducted in order to further pancreatic cancer research. These trials can sometimes have more effective results than traditional forms of treatment. However, the medications and therapies that are used during clinical trials have not been tested, so results are not guaranteed and side effects may be unknown.

Handling a Misdiagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can have a devastating impact on a patient’s life, and often results in loss of life. If a patient has suffered or died as the result of a pancreatic cancer misdiagnosis due to incompetence or negligence of the part of a physician, the physician or healthcare facility may be liable. Contacting an attorney can help a patient or patient’s family understand what options may be available for recovering compensation for medical bills and other costs stemming from a pancreatic cancer misdiagnosis.




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