Pancreatic Cancer can be defined as the uncontrolled proliferation of cells in the pancreas, an organ that is located deep in the abdomen between the lower part of the stomach and the spine. It is one such organ which is both exocrine and endocrine in nature. Also Read: Oesophageal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
The exocrine glands of the pancreas play a pivotal role in producing juices and enzymes that help in digesting proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The endocrine glands are a small cluster of cells known as the islets of Langerhans. They chiefly produce two hormones insulin and glucagon, that are responsible for controlling glucose metabolism in the body. Among the two, glucagon helps raise blood glucose levels when they are too low, whereas insulin helps the β-pancreatic cells metabolize glucose to make energy.
Pancreatic Cancer can be of two types depending upon the part or function they are affecting:
Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer:
Tumours affecting the exocrine functions are the most common type and can be either benign or malignant. The benign form is usually known as cystadenomas. The different types of tumour include:
- Adenocarcinoma, in the pancreatic ducts
- Adenosquamous carcinomas
- Squamous cell carcinomas
- Acinar cell carcinoma, that occurs in the pancreatic enzyme cells
- Ampullary cancer
- Giant cell carcinomas
Endocrine Pancreatic Cancer:
Tumours affecting the endocrine functions are called neuroendocrine or islet cell tumours. These include:
Although the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, it can occur due to certain risk factors which include:
Familial or Hereditary factors:
A person with family members having a past medical history of cancer
When the body comes into contact with a carcinogen in the form of dyes, pesticides or chemicals
People suffering from chronic ailments like diabetes, stomach infection, cirrhosis, chronic pancreatitis, and gingivitis have a higher risk of cancer. Also Read: Pancreatitis: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
People suffering from obesity or are an alcoholic or a chain smoker or have a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables are more at risk of getting cancer.
Although, it can happen to anyone, usually males above the age of 40 are more prone to pancreatic cancer
If the growing cancerous tumours are not treated on time, it might lead to excessive weight loss, persistent jaundice, bowel obstruction and severe pain in the abdomen.
Often termed as a ‘silent disease’, the symptoms for pancreatic cancer doesn’t come up till the later stages. The common signs and symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (i.e. jaundice)
- Light-coloured, often pale or grey stools
- Dark-coloured urine
- Itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Blood clots
- Onset of diabetes
Diagnosis And Treatment
It is strictly advisable to consult a doctor if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms. The diagnosis is usually done by a gastroenterologist after properly knowing the patient’s past medical history, genetic history and running some diagnostic test which includes:
- Laboratory tests- Blood Test, Tool Test and Urine Test
- Imaging techniques - Ultrasound, MRI- Scan, CT-Scan, X-ray
- Endoscopic Ultrasound
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Biopsy: Usually done to understand the extent and particular stage of cancer for better treatment:
Also known as carcinoma in situ, the cancer cells are found only in the lining of the pancreatic ducts.
Growth of cancer cells in the pancreas, with the tumour ranging from 2cm or smaller.
The proliferation of the cancer cells to the nearby tissues and organs.
Spreading of the cancer cells into the major blood vessels near the pancreas and also in the lymph nodes.
Termed as the last or advanced stage when the cancer cells have spread onto the deeper tissues and other organs of the body such as the liver, lungs and peritoneal cavity.
Treatment options usually depend upon the stage of cancer, type of cancer, patient’s health history and age so as to stop the abnormal growth of cells from spreading further. Depending upon the particular stage the patient is diagnosed with, the various treatment options include:
- Radiation therapy
- Clinical Trials
Although there is no particular way to prevent any type of cancer, one can still follow some preventive measures to reduce the risk. These include:
- Quit smoking
- Limiting the intake of alcohol
- Keeping a healthy weight
- Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Consuming less red meat