Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of the pancreas — an organ in the abdomen that lies behind the lower part of the stomach. The pancreas releases enzymes that aid digestion and produces hormones that help manage the blood sugar.

Types of cancer

  1. Cancer from then ducts – adenocarcinoma – the most common & aggressive type.
  2. Neuroendocrine tumour – the not so aggressive type. Arising from the hormone producing cells.
  3. Serous & mucinous cystadenomas
  4. Pseudocysts – completely benign . occurs as a complication of Pancreatitis.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include :

  1. Abdominal pain that radiates to the back
  2. Loss of appetite and weight
  3. Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  4. Light-coloured stools
  5. Dark-coloured urine
  6. Itchy skin
  7. New diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that’s becoming more difficult to control
  8. Blood clots
  9. Fatigue

Risk factors

Factors that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer are:

  1. Smoking
  2. Diabetes
  3. Recurrent pancreatitis
  4. Family history of pancreatic cancer
  5. Obesity

Diagnosis

If the doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, he or she may have you undergo one or more of the following tests:

  1. CT scan
  2. PET Scan
  3. Endoscopic Ultrasound
  4. Removing a tissue sample for testing (biopsy).A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small sample of tissue for
  5. Blood test. Including tumour marker CA 19-9

Based the above investigations a stage of the cancer will be derived. The treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer

Treatment

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage & location of the cancer as well as on the fitness of the patient.

Treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these.

Surgery

Operations used in people with pancreatic cancer include:

  1. Surgery for tumours in the pancreatic head.If the cancer is located in the head of the pancreas, a operation called a Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) is done.
  2. Surgery for tumours in the pancreatic body and tail.Surgery to remove the left side (body and tail) of the pancreas is called distal pancreatectomy.
  3. Surgery to remove the entire pancreas.. This is called total pancreatectomy. Done in rare conditions.

Surgery for tumours affecting nearby blood vessels. Many people with advanced pancreatic cancer aren’t considered eligible for the Whipple procedure or other pancreatic surgeries if their tumours involve nearby blood vessels. At highly specialized and experienced medical centres, surgeons may offer pancreatic surgery operations that include removing and reconstructing affected blood vessels

Supportive (palliative) care

Palliative care is provided by teams of doctors, nurses, social workers and other specially trained professionals They focus on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Thereby increase the quality of life not only for the patients but also for the families.  

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-ray beams, to destroy cancer cells. Some  may receive radiation treatments before while some after surgery. With or without chemotherapy. Or the doctor may recommend a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments when the cancer can’t be treated surgically.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. These drugs can be injected into a vein or taken orally. The patient may receive one chemotherapy drug or a combination of them.

Prevention

You may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer if you:

  1. Stop smoking.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Choose a healthy diet.