The name cancer is itself so scary that it could distress anyone. It is a class of diseases marked by out of control cell growth, whereas pancreatic cancer occurs when the uncontrolled cell growth goes out of hand and begins in the pancreas. These abnormal cells continue to divide themselves and form lumps of tissues known as tumours, rather than developing into healthy and normal pancreas tissue.
Plus these tumours interfere with the main functions of the pancreas. If the tumour stays in only one spot demonstrating limited growth, it will be termed as benign. Tumour forms when the cells of cancer migrate to other body parts mainly through blood or our lymph system and when they successfully get spread to other parts grows, invades and tend to destroy other healthy tissues; it is termed to have metastasized. The process itself is known as metastasis and the result turns out to be a serious condition which is extremely difficult to treat.
According to American Cancer Society study (2014), about 46,420 people in which 23,530 men and 22,890 women will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 39,590 people in which 20,170 men and 19,420 women will die from the disease. The rates for pancreatic cancer have increased slightly over the past decade. It’s been known that this type of cancer is much more common in older people whereas half of the new cases diagnosed could be found in people who are 75years old or more. People who are diagnosed with advanced stage of the disease; their average life expectancy is 8 to 12 months whereas those having cancer and already it have been spread to other body parts, the average life expectancy for pancreatic cancer comes down to nearly few months. But this will vary on how much the cancer has grown and where specifically it has spread.
Let us read what causes pancreatic cancer and what are its possible symptoms?
Pancreatic cancer symptoms
The symptoms of cancer vary and it largely depends on the location where the cancer is, where it has spread or how big the tumour is. Pancreatic cancer is a silent disease and it hardly shows any early symptoms and also the pancreatic cancer tumours are too small to cause any symptoms. But the time when the cancer grows, some symptoms can be seen which includes:
• Pain in the upper abdomen
• Reduction or loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting
• Significant weight loss
• Weakness and fatigue
• Change in colour of stool (pale or gray stool) and steatorrhea (excess fat in stool)
• Jaundice, in which there is painless yellowing of skin or eyes and urine gets dark.
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Jaundice occurs when cancer interfere with bile duct and liver.
The pancreatic cancer symptoms mentioned above have several other causes which make it quite difficult to diagnose the disease before an advanced stage. Clinical depression is another symptom which has been often reported before the diagnosis of cancer. Also when the cancer spreads, some additional symptoms may occur in the newly affected areas. These symptoms would depend on the location where cancer ultimately has spread. The islet cell or neuroendocrine cancers of pancreas are also responsible to cause the organ to produce too much insulin which may lead to dizzy feeling, chills, muscle spasms and abdominal problem like diarrhoea.
There is no exact cause of the disease but it’s been known smoking cigar, cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco all increases pancreatic cancer risk.
Several risk factors are also there which are associated with the development of pancreatic cancer.
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer
• Diabetes- In a study it has been found that, people who have diabetes are at higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer than those who don’t.
• History- Genes also play a major role in developing this type of cancer. As per the study, those who have a family history of pancreas cancer have 1.5 to 13 times more risk of developing the disease. Plus that person who has their family members suffering from the disease before age 50 is at higher risk too.
• Smoking- Smoking increases risk for many types of cancer including pancreas. The more a man smoke, the more there is risk to develop pancreatic cancer. The risk gets back to normal in 10-15 years, if a person quits smoking. Even according to estimates, smoking cessation could cut back deaths by pancreatic cancer by 25% in United States.
• Obesity- BMI over 30 can also enhance the risk of pancreatic cancer. In a study, it has been found that people who are obese are 1.72 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than others who had BMI below 23.
Also Read: Americans and Cervical Cancer
Diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cancer
As discussed, in the early stage of the disease pancreatic cancer causes no symptoms which make it difficult to diagnose. It is highly recommended to visit the doctor as he would first examine the eyes and skin for signs of jaundice. He would also examine the tummy to detect any swelling or abnormality. Because pancreas is hidden within the body covered with part of the bowel, it becomes quite difficult to feel any tumour. If the pancreatic cancer gets detected, some tests would be prescribed such as CT scan, MRI, Endoscopic ultrasound, Laparoscopy and Biopsy to find the further cause of the disease.
The treatment for pancreatic cancer will depend on the type, location and stage of the cancer. The cancer of pancreas is really difficult to treat.
Three main ways to treat pancreatic cancer are given below:
A surgery can be done to remove all or a part of pancreas or if the cancer has not spread to other parts there is possibility to completely cure the patient by surgically removing cancer from his body. When disease gets spread, it becomes difficult to remove all cancer cells. The three main surgical procedures to remove all of the cancer include:
• Whipple procedure- In this, doctor removes the pancreas head, and sometimes the entire organ along with a portion of the stomach, duodenum, lymph nodes and some other tissue.
• Distal pancreatectomy: The pancreas tail is removed in this procedure, and sometimes part of the body followed by the spleen. This procedure is basically used to treat islet cell or neuroendocrine tumour.
• Total pancreatectomy: The entire pancreas and spleen are removed in this procedure.
Palliative surgery is another option when the cancer located in pancreas cannot be removed. In this, the surgeon will create a bypass around the common bile duct or the duodenum if either one of it is found to be blocked.
Chemotherapy is another way for treating pancreatic cancer. In chemotherapy, chemicals are utilized which interferes with the cell division process damaging proteins or DNA. The treatment commonly targets any rapidly dividing cells but the normal cells may be recovered from any chemical induced damage while cancer cells can’t. It is used to treat cancer which has metastasized as the medicines given travel throughout the whole body. Treatment is given in cycles so that the body gets enough time to heal between doses. Some common side effects include: hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting. Gemcitabine (Gemzar) is the chemotherapy drug used for the treatment and other commonly used drug is 5-fluorouracil (5-FU).
Radiotherapy is not used that much as compared to surgery or chemotherapy. But in some cases, radiotherapy can be done to shrink the tumour using high energy beams of radiation and for relieving symptoms. The combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is often done to treat locally advanced cancers which cannot be easily removed from surgeries.