Pancreatic Cancer occurs when malignant cells forms in the pancreas. Pancreas is a gland which is located in the abdomen behind the lower part of the stomach. Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, an organ near the gallbladder that plays a key role in digestion.
The pancreas is a 6-inch long organ located behind the stomach in the back of the abdomen, near the gall bladder.
It contains glands that create pancreatic juices, hormones, and insulin.
Cancer can affect either the endocrine or the exocrine glands in the pancreas.
The exocrine glands produce juices, or enzymes, that enter the intestines and help digest fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. These make up most of the pancreas.
The endocrine glands are small clusters of cells known as the islets of Langerhans. They release the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. There, they manage blood sugar levels. When they are not working properly, the result is often diabetes.
There are two different types of pancreatic cancer, depending on whether it affects the exocrine or endocrine functions. They have different risk factors, causes, symptoms, diagnostic tests, treatments, and outlook.
Tumors that affect the exocrine functions are the most common type.
They can be malignant or benign. Benign tumors or cysts are are called cystadenomas. Most pancreatic tumors are malignant, or cancerous.
Different types of pancreatic cancers can affect the exocrine functions.
Types of tumor include:
Tumors that affect the endocrine functions of the pancreas are called neuroendocrine or islet-cell tumors. These are fairly uncommon.
The name comes from the type of hormone-producing cell where the cancer starts.
Functioning islet cell tumors continue to make hormones. Non-functioning ones do not. Most of these tumors are benign, but non-functioning tumors are more likely to be malignant, islet-cell carcinomas.
Scientists do not know exactly why uncontrolled cell growth happens in the pancreas, but they have identified some possible risk factors.
Damage or changes in a person’s DNA can lead to damage in the genes that control cell division.
Hereditary genetic changes pass down through a family. There is evidence that pancreatic cancer can run in families.
Other genetic changes happen because of exposure to an environmental trigger, for example, tobacco.
A person with certain genetic syndromes is more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancers affect men than often than women.
Exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of various diseases, and pancreatic cancer may be one of these.
Substances that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer include certain:
When the body comes into contact with a carcinogen, free radicals form. These damage cells and affect their ability to function normally. The result can be cancerous growths.
Age is an important risk factor, especially after the age of 60 years.
Scientists have also found a link between cancer of the pancreas and several other diseases.
Symptoms often do not appear until the later stages. Abdominal pain can be one of them.
Pancreatic cancer is often called a “silent” disease, because symptoms do not show until the later stages.
Tumors of the pancreas cancers are usually too small to cause symptoms, and later symptoms are often non-specific.
However, when the cancer grows, there may be:
However, a number of other diseases can cause the same symptoms, so a doctor can often not diagnose pancreatic cancer until the later stages.
Other possible signs and symptoms include:
Islet cell or neuroendocrine cancers of the pancreas may cause the pancreas to produce too much insulin or hormones.
The person may experience:
Pancreatic cancer appears differently, depending on which part of the pancreas the tumor is in, whether the “head” or the “tail.”
Tumors at the tail end are more likely to result in pain and weight loss. At the other end, head tumors cause fatty stools, weight loss, and jaundice.
If the cancer spreads, or metastasizes, new symptoms can occur in the affected area and the rest of the body.
The physician will pay special attention to common symptoms such as:
Atypical diabetes mellitus, Trousseau’s sign, and recent pancreatitis may also be indications that pancreatic cancer is present.
Possible tests include:
Blood tests can detect a chemical that pancreatic cancer cells release into the blood. Liver function tests check for bile duct blockage.
Common imaging tests include:
This can confirm a diagnosis. The doctor removes a small sample of tissue for examination under the microscope.
The stage depends on
The stages range from stage 0 to stage IV.
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