Pancreatic Cancer - Health Center

Pancreatic Cancer

By Refadoc, Posted on : Tuesday, 15 September 2015 - 10:46 am IST

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer: Basic Overview

Pancreatic Cancer starts with the tissues of the pancreas – an organ found in the abdomen behind the lower part of the stomach. The pancreas are responsible for the secretion of the enzymes which are responsible for the regulation as well as metabolism of the sugars.

The prognosis rate of Pancreatic Cancer is very poor in most of the cases, even if the disease has been diagnosed in the initial stage. The cancer spreads very rapidly and the chances of its detection in the initial stages is very poor. This is one of the major reasons why Pancreatic Cancer is one of the major causes of Cancer related deaths. The signs and symptoms of the disease do not appear until the disease has progressed to later stages as the complete removal of the organ is not possible. 

Pancreatic Cancer: Causes

The real cause of Pancreatic Cancer is unknown.

The Pancreas is about 6 inches (about 15 centimetres) in length. The Pancreas are responsible for secreting the hormone insulin which helps the body to process the sugars which are found in our food. Pancreas is responsible for producing digestive juices which can help the body to digest the food materials.

Pancreatic Cancer occurs when the cells which are present in the pancreas to develop mutations within their DNA. These genetic mutations can cause the cells to grow out of control and extend their normal life cycle. The accumulation of these cells can lead to the formation of a tumour.

The Pancreatic Cancer can begin in the cells which normally line the ducts of the pancreas. This kind of cancer is known as pancreatic adenocarcinoma or pancreatic exocrine cancer. When the cancer forms in the hormone producing cells of the pancreas, it is known as islet cell cancer or pancreatic endocrine cancer. 

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer:

The signs and symptoms of the disease are not evident till the advanced stage. The following are the major symptoms of the disease:

  •       Pain in the upper abdomen which may radiate to the back
  •       Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  •       Loss of appetite
  •       Loss of weight
  •       Depression
  •       Blood clotting

It is recommended to visit a doctor in case you have unexplained weight loss along with abdominal pains, jaundice as well as the above mentioned signs and symptoms. 

Tests and Diagnosis for Pancreatic Cancer:

If your doctor suspects Pancreatic Cancer, the following diagnostic procedures are in place for the condition:

  1. Imaging Tests: Imaging Tests such as ultrasound, CT Scans and MRI Scans are done in order to obtain images of the internal organs. These tests are used for the diagnosis of the condition.
  2. EUS Test: An Endoscopic Ultrasound test is used in order to obtain the images of the pancreas. The doctors use an endoscope in order to obtain the images and to collect a sample.
  3. Biopsy: A Biopsy is done in order to remove a tissue sample from the pancreas in order to check the pancreas under the microscope. During the biopsy, a needle is inserted through the skin into the pancreas.

In order to determine the stage of the cancer, the following tests are conducted:

  1. Using a scope: Laparoscopy is the best procedure in order to check the inside of the pancreas for the signs of cancer.
  2. Imaging Tests: Tests such as CT and MRI Scans are used extensively to obtain the images of the internal organs.
  3. Blood Tests: Blood Tests are used in order to check for the presence of proteins or tumour markers which have been shed by the pancreatic cancer cells. A tumour marker test known as CA19-9 is used extensively to check the extent of the cancer.

Stages of Pancreatic Cancer:

It is crucial to determine the stage of the cancer in order to prescribe the correct treatment option for the disease. The following are the stages of the cancer:

Stage 1: At this stage, the cancer is confined to the pancreas.

Stage 2: At this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas to the nearby tissues and organs and to the lymph nodes.

Stage 3: At this stage the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas to the major blood vessels and to the lymph nodes.

Stage 4: At this stage, the cancer has spread to the distant sites beyond the pancreas such as the liver, the lungs and to the linings of the abdominal organs. 

Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer:

The treatment options for Pancreatic Cancer are greatly dependent on the extent as well as the location of the cancer. The primary goal of the treatment is to eliminate the cancer and to prevent the cancer for reoccurring.

The following are the best treatment options for Pancreatic Cancer:

  1. Surgery: If the cancer is located at the head of the pancreas, then a surgical operation known as Whipple Procedure is conducted in order to remove the head of the pancreas and the small intestine. The side effects of this procedure may include infection and bleeding. This procedure is also followed by a long recovery period.
  2. Radiation Therapy: Radiation Therapy makes use of high energy beams such as the X Rays in order to destroy the cancer cells. This treatment is prescribed in combination with the chemotherapy or before the surgical operation.
  3. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy makes use of drugs in order to kill the cancer cells. These drugs are either injected into the veins or are taken orally. Often, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy if the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas to the surrounding organs. In advanced stage of the disease, chemotherapy can be used alone or could be combined with Targeted Drug Therapy.
  4. Targeted Drug Therapy: Targeted Drug Therapy makes use of drugs which are used specifically in order to attack the abnormalities within the cells. Drugs such as Erlotinib are used in order to block the chemicals which signal the cancer cells to grow and divide. This therapy is used in combination with chemotherapy for people who are dealing with advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.
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