The pancreas is a tiny, hockey stick-shaped gland located behind the stomach. It helps in food digestion and regulates blood sugar levels in your body. The pancreas plays a role in blood sugar regulation because it produces the chemicals glucagon and insulin, which regulate blood sugar levels.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer develops when the pancreas’ cells undergo changes (mutations) that cause them to multiply uncontrollably. This tumor may occasionally be benign (not cancerous). However, the mass in pancreatic cancer is malignant (cancerous). Due to its difficulty in detection, pancreatic cancer is typically not discovered until it is far advanced. Weight loss and jaundice are indications of pancreatic cancer. Diabetes and exposure to specific chemicals are risk factors. The type of treatment needed will depend on the tumor’s size, location, and whether it has spread to other body parts.
What are the types of pancreatic cancer?
Exocrine tumors and neuroendocrine tumors are the two forms of cancers that develop in the pancreas. Exocrine tumors make up roughly 93% of all pancreatic tumors, and adenocarcinoma is the most typical form of pancreatic cancer. When someone says they have pancreatic cancer, they typically mean pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Ductal adenocarcinoma is the kind that most frequently starts in the pancreatic ducts.
Approximately 7% of all pancreatic cancers are neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), also known as pancreatic NETs (PNETs), islet cell tumors, or islet cell carcinoma. Some NETs overproduce hormones. Depending on the type of hormone the cell produces, they may go by other names; for example, an insulinoma would be a tumor in an insulin-producing cell.
Causes and Symptom of Pancreatic Cancer
Most people don’t notice pancreatic cancer’s early symptoms. However, when the illness worsens, people could observe:
- Upper abdominal pain that may spread to the back
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Light-colored poop
- Dark-colored pee
- Blood clots in the body
- Itchy skin
- New or worsening diabetes
- Nausea and vomiting
Your doctor might suspect pancreatic cancer if you have some symptoms and you recently had diabetes or pancreatitis — a painful condition due to the inflammation of the pancreas.
Symptoms of pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer may differ from conventional pancreatic cancer symptoms, such as jaundice or weight loss. This is because some PNETs overproduce hormones.
Diagnosis and Tests for Pancreatic Cancer
It’s challenging to detect pancreatic cancer early because doctors do not consider the pancreas in a routine exam. If your doctor suspects that you may have pancreatic cancer, he may order imaging tests to take pictures of the internal organs. It is also possible to perform endoscopic ultrasonography.
A small tube with a camera at the tip is inserted via the mouth and into the stomach to perform endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS). The pancreas can be imaged via the stomach wall using the endoscope’s ultrasonic probe. During the process, a pancreatic ultrasound-guided biopsy (tissue sample) may be taken, if necessary.
A tumor marker is a chemical that can be found by a blood test. High carbohydrate antigen (CA) concentrations 19-9, a type of protein secreted by pancreatic cancer cells, may signify a tumor in cases of pancreatic cancer.
Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer
Treatment for pancreatic cancer is based on several factors, including the location of the tumor, its stage, your overall health, and if the disease has progressed outside of the pancreas. Options for treatment include:
Surgical removal: Resection refers to the removal of malignant pancreatic tissue. You might also have the pancreatic lymph nodes removed. A pancreatectomy is a medical procedure to remove all or parts of the pancreas. Your doctor might advise the Whipple procedure if your tumor is in the pancreas head, which is its broadest region and is closest to the small intestine. The pancreatic head, the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine), the gallbladder, a section of the bile duct, and adjacent lymph nodes are all removed during this surgical procedure.
Radiation therapy: High-speed energy is employed in radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells.
Chemotherapy: This process employs medicines that destroy cancer cells.
Immunotherapy: A form of cancer treatment that supports the immune system. About 1% of persons with pancreatic cancer with a specific genetic mutation may benefit from immunotherapy, even though it has been mainly ineffective against pancreatic cancer.
Targeted therapy: It aims at targeting specific genes or proteins that support the growth of cancer. Usually, genetic testing is how we decide if targeted therapy is the best option for you.
A pancreatic cancer diagnosis can be shocking and life-changing. You might consider joining a support group for people with pancreatic cancer. Spending time with others who are going through the same things can be empowering and beneficial for your mental and emotional health. You can also talk with a counselor, therapist or social worker about how you’re feeling. Knowledge is power, and there are several helpful resources available for you and your family.