The pancreas is located behind the lower part of the stomach and is responsible for food digestion and managing blood sugar levels. Cancer of the pancreas generally begins in the lining of the duct in the pancreas which is responsible for taking out the enzymes from the Pancreas. The visible symptoms are rare in the early stages of Pancreatic Cancer which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat this timely.

 

Generally, pancreatic Cancer is characterized into following types:

  1. Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma, also called Ductal Carcinoma, develops in the cells that form the lining of the ducts. 90% of people suffer from Adenocarcinoma when it comes to Pancreatic Cancer.
  2. Acinar Cell Carcinoma: When cancer develops from the cells that make enzymes in Pancreas, it is called Acinar Cell Carcinoma. 1-2 per cent of exocrine cancer patients suffer from Acinar Cell Carcinoma and get to see noticeable symptoms similar to Adenocarcinoma which are abdominal pain, nausea and weight loss. Some people also tend to get skin rashes and joint pain.
  3. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is a rare condition wherein the cancer cells develop in the ducts of the pancreas from squamous cells.
  4. Adenosquamous Carcinoma: It is also a very uncommon Pancreatic Cancer which develops fromsquamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma components. It has a poor prognosis and is difficult to treat.
  5. Colloid Carcinoma: It is also a rare form of cancer that develops from a large amount of mucous deposition. It has a better prognosis and is likely to get treated as it does not tend to spread.
  6. Neuroendocrine Pancreatic Cancer - It tends to develop in the endocrine gland which is responsible for secreting the hormones to manage blood sugar levels in the body. It is uncommon and counts for only 5% of total people suffering from Pancreatic Cancer.

 

Although a specific reason for the development of Pancreatic Cancer is not clear, there are some factors that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Hence, the possible causes of Pancreatic Cancer can be followed as:

  1. Smoking: The significant possible reason which contributes to Pancreatic Cancer is Smoking. It could be smoking cigarettes, cigars, vaping or chewing tobacco. It increases your risk of developing Pancreatic Cancer.
  2. Obesity: Excess weight calls for diseases. Hence, if you are obese, you are at a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  3. Diabetes: If you are suffering from Diabetes which are not getting under control or sudden-onset diabetes can be an alarming sign of Pancreatic Cancer.
  4. Chemical Exposure: If you are frequently exposed to chemicals like pesticides and petrochemicals, then you are more likely to have an increased risk of Pancreatic Cancer.
  5. Pancreatitis: If you are suffering from an inflammation in the pancreas and have a pro-longed pancreatitis, then you are at a higher risk of developing Pancreatic Cancer.
  6. Family History: If you have a family history of Pancreatic Cancer or Pancreatitis, then there are potential chances to develop Pancreatic Cancer.

Hence, knowing about the causes of Pancreatic Cancer can help you lower down the risk of developing it by taking preventive measures. Also, when the risk factors are high and uncontrollable, then you can timely connect with a healthcare provider for regular check-ups so that cancer can be diagnosed as soon as possible.

 

Pancreatic Cancer does not show any visible symptoms in the initial stages but as the cancer starts spreading, your body tends to experience the following symptoms:

  1. Stomach / Abdominal Pain
  2. Back Pain
  3. Jaundice
  4. Uncontrollable Diabetes
  5. Itching
  6. Floating Stool which is light in colour.
  7. Unintentional Weight Loss
  8. Low Appetite
  9. Fatigue
  10. Nausea or Vomiting
  11. Blood Clots cause swelling in arms or legs.
  12. Bloating of Stomach
  13. New Onset Diabetes.

 

If you have recently tested positive for diabetes or feel inflammation in the Pancreas, it is high time to get yourself checked for Pancreatic Cancer. Get yourself tested and consult the healthcare provider if you notice any of the symptoms frequently. Also, the pancreatic Cancer symptoms get worse after having a meal or when you lie down. The growing cancer also comes with further complications:

  1. Weight Loss: The growing cancer in patients leads to unintentional weight loss. Pancreatic cancer shows a symptom of nausea, and vomiting and puts a strain on the stomach which make it difficult for patients to eat. Also, it disturbs the functioning of the pancreas, it leads to less secretion of digestive enzymes by the pancreas which restricts the complete absorption of nutrients from the food which leads to weight loss.
  2. Jaundice: With growing cancer cells in the Pancreas, the liver’s bile duct may get blocked which leads to Jaundice. Patients suffering from jaundice may experience yellowing of skin and whites of eyes along with dark urine and light-coloured stool. When the situation gets worse, a stent is placed inside the bile duct to keep it open, so that it can function properly.
  3. Pain: Cancer Patients may experience severe pain in the stomach and abdomen due to the growing tumour. Specific medication helps in controlling the pain but it gradually increases and celiac plexus block treatment may be suggested by health care providers to stop the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. Apart from this, Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy also help in reducing pain.
  4. Bowel Blockage: Growing cancer cells may affect the first part of the intestine called the duodenum. Hence, it blocks the bowel movement, as food is restricted from moving from the stomach to the intestine due to the blockage. To remove the blockage, healthcare providers place a stent in the duodenum allowing the food to pass through it.

 

The healthcare providers undertake a series of tests to diagnose Pancreatic Cancer. The tests can be characterised as follows:

  1. Imaging Tests: Ultrasound, CT scans, MRI scans and positron emission tomography scans (PET Scans) are some of the Imaging Tests that help health care providers to see inside the organ and diagnose the cancer cells and the level to which it is spread.
  2. Endoscopic Ultrasound: Endoscopic Ultrasound is the process wherein the thin tube attached to a tiny camera is inserted through a mouth into a stomach. It examines your digestive tract by getting images of nearby tissues generated through the sound waves from the ultrasound device attached to the endoscope.
  3. Biopsy: Biopsy includes the process wherein the surgical tools are attached to an endoscope along with a tiny camera. The part of tissues is taken from the pancreas to be further examined in the laboratory. The detailed examination helps to diagnose cancer and further the course of treatment plan.
  4. Blood Tests: Pancreatic Cancer Cells secrete a substance called tumor markers which is tested through the test. The protein is called CA19-9 and the test is done during and after the treatment to examine how cancer cells are responding to the medication and treatments.
  5. Genetic Testing: Genetic Testing helps you identify the genetic history of pancreatic cancer. It can be hereditary through the mutation of genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Identifying the specific gene mutation helps healthcare providers diagnose the cancer and its required course of action.

 

Once it is known that there are cancer cells in the Pancreas, healthcare providers further identify the stage to which cancer has spread so that an exact prognosis can be understood and further treatment plan is assigned.

The course of treatment varies from patient to patient and depends on the location and stage of the cancer. The patient’s medical history is also taken into account while planning the required treatment for cancer patients. In the Initial stages, the treatment plan revolves around eliminating cancer but as the cancer stages advance level, it becomes difficult to get rid of it, so the treatment plan revolves around easing out the symptoms and extending the life span of patients so that they can live a quality life. These are the following treatments that can be considered for Pancreatic Cancer.

Surgery: In the Initial Stages of pancreatic cancer, surgery is considered a good option. It is not effective in later stages as cancer has spread to other parts or organs which makes it difficult to treat it. Different techniques of surgery are adopted depending on the complexity of the tumour.

  1. Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) - It is the surgery which is considered to treat the cancer cells in the pancreatic head wherein the head of the pancreas is removed. It may also include the removal of the first part of the small intestine, the bile duct, part of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes which could be prone to cancer cells. After removal, the parts of the digestive tract are rejoined for the proper functionality of the digestive tract.
  2. Distal pancreatectomy - It is the surgery wherein some part of the body and tail of the pancreas is removed as this surgery is effective to treat the cancer cells present in the body or tail of the pancreas. The spleen may also need to be removed in this surgery.
  3. Total pancreatectomy -When cancer cells have spread to the whole of the pancreas, the complete pancreas is removed in the surgery called Total pancreatectomy. When the Pancreas is removed from the body, the gallbladder, spleen and part of your stomach and small intestine are also removed along with it. This surgery has major side effects and you need to take medication to compensate for the functioning of the Pancreas.

Apart from these major surgeries, one more complex surgery is considered if the cancer has spread from the pancreas to nearby blood vessels. The process is complex as the blood vessels are taken out and then rebuilt for proper functioning. Surgeries involves making changes in the body which comes with severe complication like bleeding, anastomotic leakage and infection.

 

Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is indicated to treat cancer patients in all the stages. It includes strong drugs to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given before / and / or after surgery, depending the stage of the disease.

 

Radiation Therapy - Radiation Therapy is sometimes used in combination with Chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells in the patients at advanced stages. It uses energy beams through X-rays, protons or other sources to destroy the cancer cells. Surgery might be possible if Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy successfully shrink down the cancer cells and can be followed after surgery too for killing the remaining cells.

 

Immunotherapy - Immunotherapy is used to treat cancer patients at advanced stages. In this therapy, the immune system of the cancer patient is boosted to find out the cancer cells and kill them.

 

Targeted Therapy - This treatment includes targeting certain proteins that control the growth and mutations of cancer cells. Hence, drugs are given to target such proteins and control cancer cells.

 

The treatments may have some consequences, hence timely check-up with a health care provider is important to keep a check on your health. So, plan a schedule to see a doctor and follow it rigorously to stop cancer from coming back.

 

There are also certain preventive measures that can lower your risk of Pancreatic Cancer. Adapt it to your daily routine to keep your body healthy.

  1. Quit Smoking: Being the significant cause of pancreatic Cancer, Smoking cigarettes, Cigar, Vaping and chewing tobacco are always injurious to health. Quit them to minimise the risk of Pancreatic Cancer.
  2. ‘No’ to Alcohol: A large intake of Alcohol disturbs the body’s ecosystem and increases your risk of Pancreatic Cancer. So, try avoiding Alcohol to maintain a healthy body.
  3. Healthy Diet: Having a nutrient-rich diet full of fruits and vegetable help your body to stay healthy and boost your immune system. Eat well and fill your tummy with healthy food to lower down your risk of Pancreatic Cancer.
  4. Healthy Weight: Follow the right diet, exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Being obese increases your risk of Pancreatic Cancer. So, keep a watch on your weight to have it under control.

 

Hence, listen to your body and stay aware of the symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer. See your doctor as soon as you notice anything unusual that complements the symptoms. Also, if you are at high risk of Pancreatic Cancer due to some health conditions, keep a close check on your body and get the regular screenings done on time to diagnose cancer or precancerous stages, so that treatment can get started as soon as possible and you are at high chance of getting rid of the cancer.

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