What Are the Basics of Pancreatic Cancer?

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer arises when cells in the pancreas, a glandular organ behind the stomach, begin to multiply out of control and form a mass, according to Wikipedia.

Type of pancreatic cancer

According to WebMD, pancreatic cancer is classified based on which part of the pancreas is affected: the part that makes digestive substances (exocrine) or the part that makes insulin and other hormones (endocrine).

Let’s have a look at the classification.

Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer (95% of the pancreas)

  • Pancreatic adenocarcinoma (95% of exocrine pancreatic cancer)
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Giant cell carcinoma
  • Acinar cell carcinoma
  • Small cell carcinoma

Endocrine pancreatic cancer

  • Insulinomas (from an insulin-producing cell)
  • Glucagonomas (from a glucagon-producing cell)
  • Somatostatinomas (from a somatostatin-making cell)
  • Gastrinomas (from a gastrin-producing cell)
  • VIPomas (from vasoactive intestinal peptide-making cell)
  • Some pancreatic islet cell tumors do not secrete hormones and are known as non-secreting islet tumors of the pancreas.

What are signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer often goes undetected until it has spread beyond the pancreas itself.

Common symptoms of pancreatic adenocarcinoma occurring before diagnosis include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back
  • Jaundice
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and tiring easily
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleep problems
  • A palpable abdominal mass

It is noticeable that having any or all of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have pancreatic cancer, because there are many other causes for these types of symptoms. Consult a doctor for detail and exact diagnosis.

What are causes of pancreatic cancer?

The underlying causes of pancreatic cancer remain unknow, but certain risk factors have been identified.

Following are factors that pose higher risk:

  • Genetics
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity and inactivity
  • Pancreatic cysts and chronic pancreatitis
  • Diet high in fat and meat
  • Lycopene and selenium

To reduce your risk of other health problems and improve overall health, you’re suggested to eat a healthy diet, keep a healthy weight and exercise frequently.

How to diagnose pancreatic cancer?

According to WebMD, pancreatic cancer may go undetected until it’s advanced. Diagnosing pancreatic cancer usually happens when someone comes to the doctor after experiencing weeks or months of symptoms.

Based on a person’s exam, lab tests and description of symptoms, an imaging test would be ordered:

  • Computed tomography (CT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound
  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan)

If a mass detected in the pancreas through imaging studies, a pancreati cancer diagnosis is likely, but not definite.

How to treat pancreatic cancer by stage?

Pancreatic cancer is often treated depends on how far it has spread or its stage.

Stages of pancreatic cancer

Stage is a term used to describe the extent of the cancer’s spread during treatment process.

According to WebMD, stages of pancreatic cancer are:

  1. Stage 0-No spread.
  2. Stage I-Local growth.
  3. Stage II-Local spread.
  4. Stage III-Wider spread.
  5. Stage IV-Confirmed spread.

Pancreatic cancer is described as resectable, locally advanced (unresectable), and metastatic.

  1. For resectable pancreatic cancer, surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation or both may extend survival.
  2. For locally advanced (unresectable) pancreatic cancer, treatment consists of chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy.
  3. For metastatic pancreatic cancer, surgery is used only for symptom control and radiation for symptom relief. Chemotherapy (like gemcitabine) and drug combination can also help improve symptoms and survival.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.