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Living with Pancreatic Cancer

After reading a recent article in The Mirror newspaper and watching recent episodes of Coronation Street involving the character Hayley Cropper, this has highlighted what a serious disease pancreatic cancer is.

For many people that have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer it must come as a great shock and some people could even be in denial as they are unable to recognise that they are unwell. Fear and anxiety will be other emotions that people experience and at other times they may feel positive and determined to beat the cancer or even feel low despairing about the future, especially if they have a young family.

What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It has two main jobs in the body to produce digestive enzymes that help to digest food and produce hormones such as insulin and glucagon that help control blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer occurs when there is a change to the DNA structure to the human cells in the pancreas, which then grow rapidly and reproduce into a tumor.

How common is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer (also known as cancer of the pancreas) is the tenth most common cancer in the UK. This type of cancer can occur at any age but generally tends to present in people aged 50 – 80 and is rare among the under 40’s. According to NHS Choices approximately 63% of people diagnosed with this type of cancer are over 70 and it is more prevalent in men with over 4,000 new cases each year diagnosed in men in the UK alone.

Considering it is not one of the most common cancers, there are still around 8,000 people diagnosed with it each year in the UK. It is classed as one of the more serious cancers as it often remains undetected without any symptoms in the early stages and therefore people are only diagnosed in the late stages of the disease. It can also be hereditary and people may have the cancer gene without even realising it.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause pain and discomfort in your upper abdomen and can sometimes spread to your back and the pain is often worse when you are lying down or eating. Some people have referred to it as a shooting pain under the ribs.

Weight loss

Weight loss is associated with many types of cancer however with pancreatic cancer weight loss is a result of the pancreas not being able to release the digestive enzymes into the intestine to aid the digestion of food. If your pancreas is unable to release these enzymes because of the tumor, then your body will find it harder to digest food, particularly high-fat foods and will be unable to absorb the all important nutrients.


Jaundice can be caused by a number of other conditions such as gallstones or hepatitis and is rarely caused by cancer. If the tumor is in the head of the pancreas this could then block the bile duct, which is responsible for carrying bile from the liver to the intestine. Bile contains a yellow chemical called bilirubin which is removed from the body by the liver but if the bile duct is blocked, the bilirubin will build up causing the yellow symptoms of jaundice.


The pancreas is responsible for helping to produce insulin and if your body does not have enough insulin, it cannot move sugar out of the blood and into your cells. The symptoms of diabetes could include excessive thirst, passing more urine than usual, weakness and more weight loss.

What are the risk factors?

Several risk factors have been identified that may increase the chance of developing this type of cancer: older age, smoking is associated with almost a third of all pancreatic cancers, existing diabetes and chronic pancreatitis which is a long-term inflammation of the pancreas.

Diet and nutrition

Many people with pancreatic cancer will find they need to take pancreatic enzyme supplements to aid the digestion of food and absorption of important nutrients. It is also recommended that you eat little and often, keep trying different foods and drinks until you find something you enjoy and only eat what you want and when you want.

You will feel tired and sometimes exhausted either because of the cancer or the effect of any treatment you are receiving. Be kind to yourself, make sure that you rest and prioritise what you want or need to do and what can be left until tomorrow.

Learn to say yes to any offers of help with shopping, cooking or household chores and even more important don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are only too pleased to be able to do something to make your daily life more peaceful. If you work you may want to talk to your employer about reducing your hours or taking some time off. Most people’s jobs are stressful and this is something you need to be avoiding.

Going on holiday whether it’s for a long weekend, city break or a couple of weeks in the warm sun with family, friends or just on your own can be a good opportunity to get away for some proper rest and relaxation. I couldn’t think of anything nicer than a palm fringed, soft golden sand beach with warm Mediterranean sun and nothing to hear but the waves lapping at your feet.

Most people would probably think they are unable to travel abroad because of their illness and that purchasing travel insurance will be impossible for people with cancer. However, here at Free Spirit we believe everyone deserves a holiday and your health shouldn’t keep you down. Therefore we have designed a policy that offers travel cover for people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer diabetes and jaundice.

We can offer you and your family the peace of mind protection that should you have a medical emergency while travelling abroad, our 24 hour 7 days a week medical emergency helpline will be on hand to help you.

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