What you need to know about Pancreatic Cancer

Facts & Stats

Pancreatic cancer is a condition that starts in the pancreatic tissues. The pancreas is an organ in the abdominal area that releases enzymes which helps in digestion as well as hormones for regulating blood sugar. Once it starts to develop, pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly to the nearby organs. The condition is hardly ever detected during its initial stages. However, people having pancreatic cysts and/or family history with pancreatic cancer, there can be some screening procedures to detect the issue early. A patient of pancreatic cancer may develop diabetes along with jaundice, loss of weight and pains around the upper abdomen region which ultimately extends to the back.

Symptoms

Here are the most common symptoms that are associated with pancreatic cancer.

  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood clots
  • Poor appetite
  • Light-colored stools
  • Digestive problems
  • Enlarged gallbladder
  • Pale and greasy stools
  • Pain felt around the back or in the abdomen region

Since the pancreas also regulates various hormones and enzymes, the growth of tumor in the pancreas leads to abnormal secretions of these chemicals which in turn cause a lot of other health problems.

Stages

Here are the stages of pancreatic cancer.

  • Stage 0: Cancer is present only in the pancreatic duct lining.
  • Stage I: The cancer has developed and is limited to pancreas only.
  • Stage IA: The size of the tumor is maximum 2 centimeters.
  • Stage IB: The size of the tumor has extended beyond 2 centimeters.
  • Stage II: The cancer advanced to the nearby organs, tissues and lymph nodes close to the pancreas.
  • Stage III: Cancer has progressed to important blood vessels close to the pancreas and also to the nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has metastasized and extended to other organs of the body.

Causes

The exact factors responsible for the causing of pancreatic cancers are not known. However, doctors have identified certain risk factors which can enhance the propensity of pancreatic cancer.

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Old age
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis or chronic inflammation of pancreas
  • Family history of different kinds of pancreatic cancer
  • An extensive family history of different types of genetic syndromes which can enhance the risk of cancer, including Lynch syndrome, BRCA2 gene mutation and FAMMM syndrome or familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma syndrome

It has been noted that people who smoke, eat a poor quality diet and have longstanding diabetes form a high risk group for pancreatic cancer.

Diagnosis

The doctor will carry a thorough exam before recommending any diagnostic tests. Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed by different kinds of imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scans, MRI scans, X-rays and PET scans. The doctor may also perform an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) in which an ultrasound device is implemented for creating images of the pancreas from within the abdomen. A CA19-9 blood test can be used in some cases to detect certain proteins produced by pancreatic cancer cells. These proteins are sometimes called tumor markers. The exact process of diagnosis to be used for treatment may vary from one patient to another.

Treatment

The treatment for pancreatic cancer mostly consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and palliative care. The surgery for the pancreatic cancer varies based on the specific area of operation. If the doctor needs to operate at the head of pancreas, then Whipple procedure or pancreaticoduodenectomy is performed. Distal pancreatectomy is carried out when it comes to managing tumors of the pancreatic tail and body. Pancreatectomy is the surgery of choice when the whole pancreas has to be removed. The doctor may also need to operate on the blood vessels located close to the pancreas if the condition affects those areas.

Prevention

To prevent from getting affected by pancreatic cancer, it is important that you quit smoking as soon as possible. You should also stick to a healthy diet that consists of a lot of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. If you do not have a healthy weight, it is important that you get back in shape and shed those extra pounds. This will not only help you to minimize the chances of pancreatic cancer but also make it easier for you to stick to a healthier lifestyle. You should also consult your doctor and go for regular health checkups to ensure positive pancreatic health.