The pancreas is an organ that is responsible for secreting important enzymes that help our food digest and helps regulate our hormones. A lot of times when a person develops pancreatic cancer the cancer progresses very quickly, without a lot of symptoms. This makes it hard to diagnosis pancreatic cancer in the early stages which can prevent the cancer from being curable. Unfortunately pancreatic cancer is the leading type of cancer that causes death among sufferers.
When the pancreas cells develop genetic mutations the cells start to grow rapidly and live much longer than the normal cells. When the mutated cells grow uncontrollably it causes a tumor to form inside the pancreas. The tumor can grow for a long time without a person feeling ill or noticing side effects. There are two different forms of pancreatic cancer that one can suffer from. Both forms of pancreatic cancer involve cell mutations however they can happen to different cells located in different areas of the pancreas.
The first form of pancreatic cancer is called Adenocarcinoma. This occurs when the mutated cells occur in the lining of the pancreas duct. These ducts are where the digestive juices are produced. This is the most common form of pancreatic cancer. The second type of cancer occurs in the hormone-producing cells. This is called Endocrine cancer and is quite rare.
Some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer include abdominal pain in the upper part of the stomach, pain that radiates from the stomach into the back, jaundice of the skin, weight loss, loss of appetite and depression. Once your doctor suspects a person may have pancreatic cancer there are a number of tests that can be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
One of the first tests performed is an ultrasound. This will give the doctor a view of your pancreas to see if there is in fact a tumor growing. A computerized tomography scan, or CT, gives the doctor an x-ray image of your pancreas. This may involve using a dye into your bloodstream to help the doctor see particular areas more clearly. An MRI uses magnetic and radio waves to create pictures of the pancreas. An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography uses a dye to give better view of your bile ducts in the pancreas. It also involves using a small tube with a camera gently down the throat, stomach and upper intestine to get a better view of what’s going on inside. There are also biopsies of the pancreas that can be performed. This includes taking a small piece of the pancreas in order to be tested for cancerous cells.
Once pancreatic cancer has been confirmed the doctor will next determine what stage the cancer has progressed to. Depending on what stage the pancreatic cancer is in will determine the type of treatment that can be done. If the cancer is Resectable, it means that all the tumor nodules can be removed from the pancreas. Locally advanced pancreatic cancer means that the tumor cannot be removed with surgery because the cancer has already invaded surrounding blood vessels or tissues near the pancreas. Metastatic cancer means that the pancreatic cancer has spread to other organs including the liver and lungs. You may also hear the cancer being decribed as Stages I, II, III, and IV.
The different forms of treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted drug therapy. Unfortunately once the pancreatic cancer progresses too far, the option for surgery decreases. Although surgery is the preferred method of removing cancer from the body, the other forms of treatment can prove successful. If think you may have the symptoms of pancreatic cancer or have a history of pancreatic cancer in your family talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
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