Pancreas Cancer or Pancreatic Carcinoma is the presence of cancer (a malignant neoplasm) in the pancreas, a large organ situated in the abdomen, behind the stomach, adjacent to the small intestine (the duodenum) and the bile ducts. The pancreas play an instrumental role in our functioning by producing enzymes and insulin. Enzymes, for their part help in the process of digestion and allow the body to absorb proteins, fats. Insulin, on the other hand, is a hormone that primarily regulates the blood sugar level in the body.
The exact, specific cause of pancreas cancer continues to evade us, yet correlations have confirmed smokers to be at an increased risk of developing such a condition. Obesity has also been found to be a likely cause. The risk of developing this form of cancer is known to increase with age, and family history of the disease can also play truant. Diabetes mellitus also does not bode well and puts an individual at risk of pancreas cancer. Pancreatic cysts and inflammation are also found to have caused this melanoma.
A tumour thriving in the pancreas may betray no symptoms at first. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are usually found to be indistinguishable and are often easily explained as being linked to other, less serious medical problems. The absence of overt symptoms leads to delay in diagnosis, as a result of which majority of patients have progressed to the advanced level of pancreas cancer by the time it has been detected.
Some commonly observed early symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort (especially in the upper part)
- Experiencing pain in the back
- Loss of weight attributed to loss of appetite, bloating
- Contracting jaundice
- Dark-coloured urine and stools
- Itchiness (Pruritis)
- Sense of nausea
- Fever and chills
The vast majority of exocrine pancreatic tumours are malignant and approximately 95% of them are found to be adenocarcinoma. These originate either from the ducts of the pancreas or from the cells that produce enzymes. Another face that exocrine tumours can take is Carcinoma of the ampulla of Vater, this generally leads to blockage of the bile duct, accumulation of bile, resulting in jaundice.
Also called Islet Cell tumours, these are less common and take the form of Insulinomas, Glucagonomas, Gastrinomas, Somatostatinomas.
Depending on whether the cancer is localised (confined to the pancreas), locally advanced (involving nearby blood vessels or organs) or metastatic (spread to the body), the treatment of pancreas cancer is determined. Surgery is recommended to the select few with localised cancer, these individuals will be cured if the entire tumour is removed. Chemotherapy and radiation are often administered post surgery to augment the cure rate (adjuvant therapy). For pancreatic cancer that cannot be removed completely with surgery, or locally advanced and metastatic cancer, the chances of finding a cure are bleak. However, chemotherapy and radiation may be recommended to extend life and relieve pain and other symptoms.
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