What is pancreatic cancer and its types?
Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.
Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it’s a leading cause of cancer death. Signs and symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and complete surgical removal isn’t possible.
Factors that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer include:
- African-American race
- Excess body weight
- Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Family history of genetic syndromes that can increase cancer risk, including a BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM)
- Personal or family history of pancreatic cancer
What are pancreatic cancer symptoms and signs?
- dark urine,
- itchy skin,
- light-colored stools,
- pain in the abdomen or the back,
- poor appetite and weight loss,
- digestive problems (pale and/or greasy stools, nausea, and vomiting),
- blood clots,
- enlarged gallbladder.
How is the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer made?
Most screening tests consist of CT scans, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), or endoscopic ultrasounds.A physical examination (usually normal), blood tests, X-rays, and an ultrasound. If pancreatic cancer is present, the likelihood of an ultrasound revealing an abnormality in the pancreas is about 75%. If a problem is identified or suspected, frequently a computed tomography (CT) scan is performed as the next step in the evaluation. A pancreatic mass and the suspicion of pancreatic cancer is then raised and a biopsy is performed to yield a diagnosis.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer as well as on your age, overall health and personal preferences. The first goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to eliminate the cancer, when possible. When that isn’t an option, the focus may be on preventing the pancreatic cancer from growing or causing more harm. When pancreatic cancer is advanced and treatments aren’t likely to offer a benefit, your doctor will help to relieve symptoms and make you as comfortable as possible.
Surgery may be an option if your pancreatic cancer is confined to the pancreas. Operations used in people with pancreatic cancer include:
- Surgery for tumors in the pancreatic head. If your pancreatic cancer is located in the head of the pancreas, you may consider an operation called a Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy).
The Whipple procedure involves removing the head of your pancreas, as well as a portion of your small intestine (duodenum), your gallbladder and part of your bile duct. Part of your stomach may be removed as well. Your surgeon reconnects the remaining parts of your pancreas, stomach and intestines to allow you to digest food.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells. You may receive radiation treatments before or after cancer surgery, often in combination with chemotherapy. Or, your doctor may recommend a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments when your cancer can’t be treated surgically.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be injected into a vein or taken orally. You may receive only one chemotherapy drug, or you may receive a combination of chemotherapy drugs.Chemotherapy can also be combined with radiation therapy (chemoradiation). Chemoradiation is typically used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the pancreas, but only to nearby organs and not to distant regions of the body. This combination may also be used after surgery to reduce the risk that pancreatic cancer may recur.In people with advanced pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy may be used alone or it may be combined with targeted drug therapy.
Targeted therapy uses drugs that attack specific abnormalities within cancer cells. The targeted drug erlotinib (Tarceva) blocks chemicals that signal cancer cells to grow and divide. Erlotinib is usually combined with chemotherapy for use in people with advanced pancreatic cancer.
- Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it’s a leading cause of cancer death.
- The first goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to eliminate the cancer, when possible. When that isn’t an option, the focus may be on preventing the pancreatic cancer from growing or causing more harm.