Pancreatic cancer, the silent killer is affecting a lot of people worldwide where most cases result in death. The most challenging problem facing the treatment of pancreatic cancer is its diagnosis only in the later stages of the disease. The early stages of the disease do not cause any serious symptoms thereby causing patients to ignore the probability of their symptoms being caused by pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer thus needs to be assessed and diagnosed early for timely treatment.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth largest cancer killer in the world after lung, bowel and prostate cancer. The negative aspect of pancreatic cancer is the lack of success in diagnosing the disease in early stages where surgery could be a lifesaver for patients. The life expectancy for a patient with advanced metastatic pancreatic cancer is only 3 to 6 months.
1 Pancreatic cancer statistics
According to the American Cancer society statistics of 2017, Approximately 53.670 people will be affected by pancreatic cancer. Among these 43,090 people will succumb to the disease. Thus you see the mortality rate of pancreatic cancer is extremely high. In the US alone pancreatic cancer accounts for 7% of all cancer deaths. Awareness of the disease may contribute to a reduction of such numbers and reading articles such as this one will provide you valuable information of Pancreatic Cancer.
2 The origin of pancreatic cancer
The origin of pancreatic cancer lies in the anatomy of the pancreas itself. Digestion, hormones like secretin and cholecystokinin, within the small intestine, stimulate exocrine cells within the pancreas thereby producing carbonate ions and digestive enzymes. These pass through the pancreas to the duodenum for digestion of lipids and proteins. Contributing negative factors may cause these exocrine cells cause possible tumors thus obstructing the functioning of the pancreas to produce enzymes. The problem with such a scenario is that these exocrine tumors do not secrete hormones and do not display symptoms making it hard for cancer diagnosis.
There are various types of pancreatic cancer depending on the tumor location and the cell affected. The most common of these are adenocarcinoma, which affects and originates from exocrine cells. The extent of pancreatic cancer stages is usually divided depending on extent of affliction.
The various stages of pancreatic cancer
Primary stage and stage 1 and 2
Most pancreatic cancers usually obstruct the drainage of bile produced by the liver thus causing a discoloration of the skin to a yellow shade. The primary pancreatic cancer stages commence with abnormal cells found in the pancreatic lining, spreading to other adjacent tissue. During the first and second stages, cancerous cells developed into tumors averaging 2 centimeters or larger. In the second stage, the cancer usually spreads to connecting tissue, organs and then possibly to lymph nodes. In some cases the lymph nodes may not be affected.
The options of treatment are surgery or surgery with chemotherapy as well as radiation therapy or Surgery with only chemotherapy. Chemo is usually done before the radiation therapy process, as well as during and after the same.
The cancer will have metastasized and spread to blood vessels near the pancreas and the lymph nodes and tissues present in the area. This progresses to tumors of varied sizes, soon affecting nearby organs like the liver, peritoneum and even the lungs.
- Palliative surgery: Basically surgery on incurable disease simply to lessen pain, facilitate smoother bodily function and improve the quality of daily life.
- Stent replacements: To facilitate smooth passage of obstructed fluid like bile.
- Gemcitabine based chemotherapy
- Experimentation with alternate therapies: In addition to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. New anticancer agents would also be tried for effectiveness and potential.
- Palliative treatments: To ease pain and discomfort, using nerve blockers and supportive procedures.
3 Various treatment techniques of pancreatic cancer
During the initial stages where tumors can be removed by surgery, different techniques are usually applied like Whipple surgery, where parts of related organs like liver, stomach, small intestine gall bladder and bile duct are removed. A part of the pancreas will be left to facilitate the functions of enzyme production.
Total pancreatectomy, where the whole pancreas is removed or distal pancreatectomy, where only the body and tail of the pancreas is removed along with the spleen. However when the cancer is too far spread, palliative procedures are the only option for controlling discomfort and pain. In the latter stages, apart from palliative treatment, it would be for greater good, that a patient also undergoes clinical trials of new drugs and treatments, along with regular treatment. This would not only ease the pain of pancreatic cancer but also serve mankind in developing improved treatments of this deadly disease.
- Contributing factors of pancreatic cancer
- Cigarette smoking doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer
- Ageing: Risk of Pancreatic cancer increases with age
- Race and genetics :
- Chronic pancreatitis: recurring pancreas inflammation
- Diabetes Mellitus: sugar diabetes could also indicate pancreatic cancer
- Obesity: 8 % of all cancers are associated with obesity
- Diet: Red meat and processed meat increases the risk of pancreatic cancer
- Excessive alcohol
- Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome
- Workplace exposure to certain chemicals and radiation
Warning signs of pancreatic cancer
- Frequent Light colored stools
- Frequent dark urine
- Upper or mid abdominal pain and back pain
- Sudden weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Tiredness and fatigue
4 How to prevent pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer is a negative scenario because of the organ existing deep within the body. Tumors cannot be detected even by any routine exam. The above symptoms mentioned are general indicators associated with the disease but by and large there are no specific symptoms of the disease until it has spread to other organs.
Medical experts do not recommend screening those at average risk of pancreatic cancer simply because a screening test is no guarantee that decreases the fatality of pancreatic cancer. It is only a blood test of certain protein indicators called tumor markers in the blood that can indicate a person is suffering from pancreatic cancer by which time the cancer is already in n advanced stage. Sometimes such markers show up even when you may not have pancreatic cancer.
The only way to be safe from pancreatic cancer is to avoid and decrease the influence of the factors contributing to the disease. A healthy lifestyle with adequate exercise, no smoking, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and limiting the consumption of those items that increases the risk is the best possible way to stay safe from pancreatic cancer.