Cancer » Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is a kind of cancer originating in the pancreas. Pancreas is a kind of gland located in the abdomen and is vital for smooth functioning of the digestive system. The gland produces juices (also known as pancreatic juices) that are helpful in digesting food. The gland also produces glucagons and insulin and thus, plays a vital role in maintaining appropriate sugar level in our body.
Understanding cancer in the pancreas
Pancreatic cancer develops due to an uncontrolled and abnormal growth of cancer cells in the pancreas. Cancer of the pancreas can develop either in the exocrine or endocrine pancreas. Cases of cancer in the endocrine pancreas are very less and comprise not even 10% of the overall cases of cancer in the pancreas. Cancer in the exocrine pancreas is the most common type and comprises almost 90-95% of the overall cases of cancer in the pancreas. Hence, pancreatic cancer is also termed as exocrine cancer.
Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of the exocrine cancer of pancreas. This cancer develops in the ducts delivering enzymes to the small intestine. These enzymes play a vital role in food digestion and hence, proper functioning of ducts is extremely important. When the cancerous cells attack the live cells and tissues present in the ducts, a chain reaction of abnormal cell division and growth initiates and damages the healthy tissues present in the invaded area. The cancerous cells also attack the live cells adjacent to the tissues and force them to behave abnormally. This results into production of excess number of cells in the infected area. The situation worsens when these cancerous cells prevent the live cells from dying in a normal way.
These unnecessary and infected cells form groups and accumulate in the area they infect. This gives rise to a lump which is generally known as tumor. Tumor may be of various types and the impact they put on the victim's body may differ from person to person. Tumors are primarily classified into benign and cancerous tumors. Cancerous tumors are the root-cause of the development and spread of pancreatic cancer in a person's body and need to be treated instantly. These tumors spread very rapidly and severely damage the healthy tissues and live cells in the areas they attack. The tumors hardly restrict themselves to a particular area. They have a tendency to metastasize and form multiple tumors. They move from one organ to another through the lymph nodes or bloodstream. Cancerous tumors are usually detected very late and the chances of their complete elimination are rare. Even if they are treated by surgery or any other methods, the chances of their reappearance are high.
On the other hand, benign tumors are generally non-destructive and do not have tendency to metastasize. They restrict themselves to a particular area and do not indulge in harming or killing cells or tissues. They are easy to eliminate by way of surgery or any other suitable treatment and they rarely redevelop. One must remember that the benign tumor is also a kind of cell disorder and must not be taken lightly. Though not as severe as cancerous tumors, the benign tumors may lead to obstruction in blood and oxygen flow and prevent the affected organ from functioning normally. Also, if benign tumors remain unattended and untreated for a long time, they may pave way for cancerous cells to develop more easily.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the major types of cancers and is responsible for a considerable number of cancer-deaths worldwide. Hence, early detection of the cancer is necessary to plan proper line of treatment. Many important medical examination techniques like ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, endoscopy and computed tomography scan are used to examine the body internally. Some of the specialized examination techniques like laparoscopy, positron emission tomography, endoluminal ultrasound, endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography are also useful in diagnosing the disease.
Cancer in the pancreas is more common in men than women and persons above 60 years of age are more prone to it. Smoking and excess consumption of alcohol is one of the leading causes of the disease. Tobacco chewing can also be harmful at times. Family history of the disease makes a person more prone to the cancer. Those who are suffering from diabetes and chronic pancreatitis are at a slightly higher risk of being infected by the disease. Obesity is another important cause of the disease. Hence, a balanced and hygienic diet low in fat contents is important. Regular exercise and consumption of salads, fruits and vegetables can be advantageous to maintain a good immune system.
People who have undergone gastrectomy should consult a physician immediately in case of any unusual health issues. Stomach ulcers and frequent exposure to chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents can increase the risk of being infected by the disease considerably. Regular consumption of soft drinks that particularly contain fructose may pave way for gradual development of cancer cells. Excess consumption of red meat should be avoided. Also, the persons suffering from helicobacter pylori infection should be extra careful about the health issues.
Unexpected loss of weight, loss of appetite and abdominal pains are some of the basic symptoms of the disease. Night sweats, vomiting and back pains are some other indications of the disease. If the disease is into an advanced stage, some may also experience chest pains or problems in the respiratory tract. Jaundice and diarrhea are other indirect but important symptoms of the disease.
Pancreatic cancer is curable if detected in the primary stages. Surgery is the most effective treatment for patients who are in the initial stages of the cancer. Entire or part of the pancreas can be removed surgically depending upon the intensity of the tumor. Radiation treatment is also beneficial in some cases. Chemotherapy is another important kind of treatment given if the cancer is in an advanced stage. These treatments have a considerable number of side effects and must be taken after proper diagnosis and under thorough medical supervision.