What is Pancreatic Cancer?
As the name suggests, pancreatic cancer occurs in the pancreas, a six-inch gland located between the spine and the stomach. The pancreas is responsible for producing “juices” that aid in the digestion of food and also produces specific hormones, including insulin, that control the levels of sugar in the body. The American Cancer Society reported that approximately 34,000 individuals were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006, and about 33,000 lost their battle with this disease that same year.
About the disease
Unfortunately, many people are unfamiliar with pancreatic cancer and its causes. Pancreatic cancer is said to be difficult to diagnose and detect in the early stages, which puts individuals diagnosed with this disease at a disadvantage in terms of treatment and recovery. Pancreatic cancer can only be controlled if it is detected before it spreads to other parts of the body, when it can be removed by surgery. Like mesothelioma cancer, if pancreatic cancer spreads, a patient’s only option is pallative treatment, which is only a temporary method of controlling pain and symptoms. There is no cure for pancreatic cancer.
Who gets Pancreatic Cancer?
Individuals who have a long history of smoking cigarettes or have chronic conditions such as diabetes or endocrine neoplasia are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosed?
As mentioned, pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose. People who experience jaundice, abdominal pain, sudden and unexplained weight loss, extreme fatigue and a loss of appetite may have pancreatic cancer, and their doctor may recommend diagnostic testing if their patient displays these symptoms. A chest x-ray is the most common pancreatic cancer diagnostic tool. A doctor may recommend a CT scan, MRI, or PET scan. An endoscopic ultrasound is also used to diagnosis pancreatic cancer. In some cases, doctors will recommend an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) or a percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC), both of which involve the x-ray of the liver and gallbladder. A biopsy may also be ordered and conducted by a pathologist, and pancreatic tissue to be biopsied is generally removed laproscopically.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Treated?
Unless pancreatic cancer is detected early, before it has spread to other parts of the body, surgery is not an option. In the event that a patient’s pancreatic cancer is discovered in the early stages, surgery to remove parts of the pancreas is often successful. Types of surgery for pancreatic cancer sufferers include a pancreatic double bypass, which involves the removal of tumors found in the head (or top portion) of the gland. A celiac nerve block, which is performed to alleviate the pain associated with a pancreatic tumor, may also be recommended. There is also a vaccine for those suffering from pancreatic cancer, which triggers an immune response that “battles” the cancerous cells in the pancreas. This vaccine is still being tested in clinical trials. Like other forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, chemotherapy and radiation are also utilized to treat pancreatic cancer.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.