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Pancreatic Cancer: Delayed or poor prognosis is the leading cause of cancer death

Pancreas is part of the endocrine and exocrine system of the human body. Pancreas performs a dual function, endocrinal and exocrinal. Pancreas has a two-way role, maintain the body’s glucose balance, and produce hormones (insulin and glucagon) that regulate the blood’s glucose.

Pancreatic cancer originates in the tissues of pancreas. Poor prognosis is considered to be a major cause for pancreatic cancer deaths. Until pancreatic cancer reaches the advanced stage, it is very difficult to diagnose it, giving least scope for treatment of it. Added, the complete surgical removal of the cancerous pancreas (complete or part) is not possible, as it may cause greater damage to the body.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include upper abdominal pain, back pain, yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice), loss of appetite, weight loss, depression and blood clots.

Causes

The exact causes for pancreatic cancer are unknown. Due to cell mutation there is uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas. These cells continue to live which is in contrast to normal cells which die after some time. These accumulated cells form a tumor, which may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Pancreatic cancer that begins in ducts of pancreas is called as pancreatic adenocarcinoma or pancreatic exocrine cancer. The hormone producing cells of pancreas may also develop cancer, which is called as islet cell cancer or pancreatic endocrine cancer.

Risk Factors & Complications

Pancreatic cancer may be seen in people of specific race, physical condition and health history. African-Americans are greatly prone to pancreatic cancer. Those suffering from excess body weight, chronic inflammation and diabetes are also prone to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is also seen in people with a family history of genetic syndromes. People who smoke are also greatly susceptible to having pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer

Test & Diagnosis

Doctors may suggest any of the diagnostic tests to identify pancreatic cancer. These tests include, imaging tests (CT Scan & MRI), endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), ERCP to inject dye into the bile ducts of the pancreas, and biopsy of the pancreas. These diagnostic tests are followed by attempts to verify the stage of pancreatic cancer.

Verifying the stage of pancreatic cancer includes, using a scope to explore the pancreas and surrounding tissues, referring to imaging tests like CT and MRI, and blood testing, to know the presence of specific proteins (tumor makers) in the blood. At the advanced stage of pancreatic cancer, the cancerous cells go beyond pancreas such as liver, lungs and the lining of abdominal organs (peritoneum).

Treatment

As understood, the treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. Based on the stage of the cancer, the treatment or surgical procedure is advised. Surgery is advised when the tumors are restricted to pancreas only.

Whipple procedure is an operation performed when cancerous cells are located in the head of the pancreas. The operation removes head of the pancreas, and portion of small intestine, gallbladder and bile duct. The remaining parts of the pancreas, stomach and intestine are reconnected. Whipple procedure is followed by many days of bed-rest at hospital and home. Nausea and vomiting are increasingly found in patients the post whipple period.

During the distal pancreatectomy procedure, the tail of the pancreas and a small portion of the body are removed. Like any other surgeries, there is always the risk of bleeding and infection. Stay in the hospital with close monitoring by experienced health professionals helps in early recovery.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also provided in certain cases of pancreatic cancer. These two may be administered separately or together, for effective cancer treatment. In Radiotherapy, the cancerous cells are destroyed by high-energy beams (like x-rays). Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancerous pancreatic cells. Erlotinid (Tarceva) which blocks chemicals that signal cancer cells is considered as a targeted therapy for pancreatic cancer.

As understood, prevention is better than cure. People who are susceptible to cancer should stop cancer, maintain healthy body-weight, and have only healthy diet (fruits, vegetables and whole grains). Timely health check-ups take a long way in preventing cancer, avail the best treatments, and early recovery. Pancreatic cancer is a dreadful disease