Overview of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that begins in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that lies behind the lower part of your stomach and releases enzymes that aid in digestion and produce hormones that manage your blood sugar. The pancreas is about six inches and looks like a pear that is on its side. Some growths in the pancreas are cancerous, but some are noncancerous as well. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which forms in the cells that line the ducts. Pancreatic is rarely found in its early stages, when it is more easily treated because there are rarely symptoms that are noticed. Treatment for pancreatic cancer will depend on the extend of the cancer, but can typically be surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Symptoms typically are not noticed until the cancer has advanced. The following are the most common symptoms: abdominal pain that can be felt in your back, fatigue, dark urine, itchy skin, light stools, blood clots, diabetes, yellowing of the skin, loss of appetite, or weight loss. You will want to see your physician if you experience any symptoms that are worrying to you. The symptoms for pancreatic symptom may be thought to be a result of something else.
Causes of Pancreatic Cancer
There is no real clear cause of pancreatic cancer, but there are a few factors that physicians believe may increase the risk of it. There are certain gene mutations and factors such as smoking also may cause pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when there are mutations in the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). This means that cells grow uncontrollably and do not die, which causes a tumor to form. When pancreatic cancer forms and goes untreated, it can spread to other nearby organs.
Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer
There are a variety of risk factors that can lead to pancreatic cancer such as: smoking, family history of pancreatic cancer, obesity, older age, diabetes, chronic inflammation of the pancreas, or family history of genetic syndrome.
The combination of smoking, diabetes, and poor diet increase the risk of pancreatic cancer drastically.
Complications of Pancreatic Cancer
Weight loss is very common in people with pancreatic cancer, which typically occurs because the cancer is consuming all of the body’s energy. Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer and cancer treatments can make it very difficult to eat. Your body may also have difficulty processing nutrients because the pancreas is not working properly.
Jaundice is caused by pancreatic cancer because it blocks the liver’s bile duct. You can tell if you are beginning to have jaundice because it causes the skin and eyes to yellow, dark urine, and light-colored stools. Abdominal pain is usually associated with this as well.
You may experience pain because the growing tumor may begin to press on nerves in the abdomen. Pain medications may help you feel a little better in the meantime, but once the cancer has been diagnosed and treated, you may begin to feel relief.
How to Prevent Pancreatic Cancer
The first step to prevent pancreatic cancer is to quit smoking. If you smoke, then you must quit now. If you do not currently smoke, then you must not begin. If you have trouble with quitting, ask your physician for help. There are many cessation tools that can help you quit.
The other step is to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, as well as eating a healthy diet. You will want to combine exercise with a healthy diet. Eat a lot of healthy vegetables, fruits, and grains.
Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer
If pancreatic cancer is suspected, there are many tests that your physician may recommend. An imaging test is the most common form of diagnosing cancer. A computerized tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
may be recommended by your physician to get an inside look at your internal organs. It will be able to see if there are tumors on your pancreas and if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
An endoscopic ultrasound may be used to create ultrasound pictures of your pancreas. The device is passed down your esophagus and into the stomach to get good pictures.
A biopsy may be done by collecting a piece of tissue during the ultrasound. This will allow your physician to look at the sample under the microscope to see if it is cancerous.
A blood test may also be done to test the blood for specific proteins.
Once pancreatic cancer has been diagnosed, your physician will then try to determine the stage of the cancer. Pancreatic cancer can be scored from 0 to IV, which IV is the worst stage and the cancer has spread to other areas.
Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer
Treatment of the pancreatic cancer will depend on the stage and location of the cancer. Your physician will also look into your preference and your overall health as well. The first goal of cancer treatment is to eliminate cancer as quickly as possible. When this is not possible, then the physician will work towards eliminating the cancer as best as possible while also working to improve your quality of life.
Treatment may begin with surgery, such as working towards removing the source of the cancer. During surgery, your physician may want to remove the tumor, part of the pancreas, or even all of the pancreas. Each of these surgeries pose their own risk of bleeding and infection. You may experience a long road to recovery with these surgeries.
Chemotherapy is a drug that is used to kill the cancer cells. This type of drug can be used through an IV or through a pill. This can be combined with other treatments to kill the cancer.
Radiation therapy is used to target the cancer cells through x-rays and can often be combined with chemotherapy.
Palliative care may also be recommended as a way to improve your quality of life as well. This type of care is so important in an effort to relieve other symptoms.