The pancreas is a unique organ, and when confronted with the word “cancer,” the pancreas is not what comes to most of our minds. However, according to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer counts for seven percent of cancer deaths in the United States. This is a significant number.
The Pancreas and the Body
Located deep in the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine, the pancreas resembles a pear turned on its side, about six inches in length. The head of the pancreas is like the bottom of the pear; it is the widest part of the organ. The middle of the pancreas can be related as the body and the narrow end, the tail.
The pancreas has two duties:
- To make digestive juices that assist in breaking down food
- To make insulin and other hormones that assist in controlling blood sugar levels
These two duties ultimately help the human body and digestive system to aptly store and gain energy from its food. A normally functioning pancreas can do these tasks without issue; however, humans have tendencies to increase their chances for negative health side effects by choosing to put harmful things in their body or by abusing their body in some way. These result in risk factors to developing cancer or other diseases.
Pancreatic cancer can be non-genetic or genetic. Risk factors that are self-induced are smoking and being overweight or obese. Most of the time genetics plays a role in a person developing cancer of the pancreas; any of the following can be a factor:
– Personally having diabetes or any form of chronic pancreatitis
– Any family history that involves pancreatic diseases
– Certain hereditary conditions including breast and ovarian cancer
Signs and Symptoms
Cancer can be a difficult disease to recognize and diagnose, especially early on. There are some characteristic signs of pancreatic cancer that you can be cognizant of. A few that are significant signs are jaundice, pain, and weight loss, especially when all three are present. A few others include light-colored stool and dark-colored urine, loss of appetite and pain in the lower back and abdomen specifically.
Because the pancreas is such a well-hidden organ in the human body, it is difficult to realize it is the source of the symptoms you are experiencing. If you are experiencing a plethora of these symptoms it is important to make the connection and go see a doctor or medical professional.
Again, as with most cancers there are stages that treatments revolve around. If the cancer is caught in time and the person’s overall health is stable and standard then most likely the cancer will be able to be removed. It is when the cancer is caught later on in its path and the patient is suffering physically, that it becomes difficult to treat cancer of the pancreas.
Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer
With this type of cancer, doctors usually find that the cancer has not moved beyond the pancreas. Surgery can then suffice; either a Whipple procedure or a distal pancreatectomy will remove the cancerous part of the affected pancreas. While this temporarily removes the cancer, chemotherapy and/or radiation are highly recommended to ensure the patient stays in remission.
Pancreatic cancer can reach out and infect nearby blood vessels and grown into them or surround them completely. In this case the doctor’s wisest choice is not surgery. This type is often treated with “neoadjuvant chemotherapy,” a specialized chemotherapy that shrinks the cancer to an operable size. Imaging tests are routinely performed until the doctor is satisfied the cancer has shrunk to an operable stage.
Cancer that has grown too far into any surrounding blood vessels or has grown into and affected other nearby organs is past the operable stage. The solution available is radiation or chemotherapy, and in most cases this is the only solution available.
Tumors can grow within the pancreas; these are treated much the same as above. Imaging tests are done, and the patient can collaborate with the doctor to decide whether chemotherapy would be more effective before or after surgery. In turn, not only the pancreas itself can experience tumors and cancerous cells, the ducts and valves that are used for bile and digestive juices can be affected by cancer. These cancers are treated like pancreatic cancer, but if caught at a sooner stage, can be removed effectively.
Article submitted by community Writer.