Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant tumor found in the tissues of the pancreas. About 37,680 new cases of pancreatic cancer are reported in the United States each year, and approximately 34,290 people die from this disease. Even when diagnosed in its earliest stage, the prognosis is generally considered as poor. Not more than 5% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive five years after the diagnosis. Complete remission is extremely rare.

Types of pancreas cancer

Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas is the most common type of pancreatic cancer. This type arises from the exocrine glands. Around 95% of pancreatic tumors are of this type. The remaining 5% are acinar cell cancers, other tumors of the exocrine pancreas (such as serous cystadenomas), and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (insulinomas). Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell carcinomas are produced by the endocrine glands of the pancreas.

What causes pancreatic cancer?

What causes pancreatic cancer? Genetic mutations of cells in the pancreas cause this disease. These changes make the cells grow uncontrollably and continue living even after normal cells die. These cells accumulate to form a tumor. The following are the primary risk factors for pancreatic cancer: advanced age, smoking, and diabetes mellitus.

Men are also more likely than women to develop pancreatic cancer (male-to-female ratio of 1.3:1). Family history of the disease is also a major risk factor, along with chronic pancreatitis or the inflammation of the pancreas, which usually arises due to gallstones or excessive alcohol consumption.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer may not appear until the disease is quite advanced and when surgical removal is not possible. The major symptoms are depression and jaundice or yellowing of the skin and the white of the eyes.

Pain in the back, upper abdomen or both is also a likely symptom. The sufferer may also experience weight loss, which is usually associated with bloating, loss of appetite or anorexia, and diarrhea or having steatorrhea, that fatty bowel movements that float in water.

 How to treat pancreatic cancer?

Treating pancreatic cancer largely depends on the location and stage of the cancer, age and overall health of the patient, as well as personal preferences. Surgery is one option, but not all parts of pancreatic cancers are resectable or have a big chance to be removed completely.

The cancer can also be treated using radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams in destroying cancer cells. This is often used in combination with chemotherapy. Targeted drug therapy can also cure this disease.