Summary of Pancreatic Cancer
The pancreas is a tiny organ found in the upper abdomen, adjacent to the first part of your small intestine known as the duodenum, and found under the stomach. The pancreas is made up of various glands responsible for various functions and tasks in the human body. The functions of the glands found in the pancreas can be classed into two:-
Exocrine – these glands are responsible for the secretion of enzymes into bile ducts that will eventually end up into the duodenum. The secreted enzymes facilitate in food digestion while in the intestines.
Endocrine – endocrine glands on the other hand secrete hormones, insulin included, directly into the blood stream. This insulin is transported by the blood to various parts of the body to facilitate in the process of converting sugar into useful energy. Insulin is also responsible for controlling the levels of sugar and maintaining it in the right levels. The pancreas is further divided into four major anatomical parts:-
1. The head – the top part of the organ that lies next to the duodenum
2. Uncinate process – part of the head’s extension of the pancreas
3. Body – the mid-section of the pancreas
4. Tail – the last part of the pancreas found next to the spleen
The commonest type of pancreatic cancer occurs on the exocrine glands and is referred to as adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. As for the endocrine glands, the type of cancer occurring there is known as islet cell tumor or pancreatic neuroendocrine carcinoma. The adenocarcinoma of the pancreas however happens to be the commonest type of cancer today, hence this article seeks to shed more light on it.
As previously mentioned, it is the commonest and most aggressive of all types of cancers identified today. This is because by the time this cancer starts to show signs and symptoms and even before the diagnosis is done, many people would already have it spread to many different parts of the body, thus combating it becomes tough. The other thing you should know about pancreatic cancer is that it is very resistant to current treatment options available in the market, and the only possible and most effective treatment so far is surgery.
Causes of Pancreatic Cancer
The main notable risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer include:-
- Advanced age
- Chronic pancreatitis i.e. an inflammation of the pancreas mostly as a result of excessive consumption of alcohol and presence of gallstones in the pancreas.
- Diabetes mellitus
- Genetic predisposition where one comes from a family of people suffering from pancreatic cancer
- Sex predisposition where men are more prone to the cancer with a ratio of 3:1
When to see a doctor
You should seek urgent medical attention immediately you notice any symptoms associated with this condition. Unexplained weight loss, pain, and persistent jaundice even with initial treatment should prompt you to seek medical attention as early as possible.
Manifestation of Pancreatic Cancer
The best treatment of this condition is determined by the extent at which the disease has spread, and it can be divided into three major categories:-
Localized – the condition is fully confined in the pancreas
Locally but advanced – the condition has not only affected the pancreas but also nearby organs and blood vessels
Metastatic – the pancreas has spread outside to various other body parts
As previously mentioned, the most effective way to treat pancreatic cancer is through surgery, which based on how the cancer will respond to the surgery, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to help thwart the chances of the cancer ever returning again (known as adjuvant therapy). There are some known factors that may increase the odds of the cancer returning after surgery, some of which include:-
- The presence of tumor at the perimeter of the surgical specimen (what is scientifically known as positive margin)
- The presence of tumor in lymph channels or/ and blood vessels
- Traces of tumor on nerves
- Presence of cancer cells in surrounding and nearby organs and lymph nodes
In the event of adjuvant therapy, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy without radiation or a series of chemotherapy coupled with radiation therapy. It is however to be noted that there is no standard proposal available at the moment for adjuvant therapy, hence remains an area of lots of clinical researches.
In case of a locally advanced pancreatic type of cancer which cannot be effectively and safely removed through surgical operation, chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy can be offered. However, this treatment option has stirred lots of controversy in people, with some fully endorsing it and others being against it. However, the treatment option is only pursued based on several factors such as symptoms and the extent of its spread in the body.