What is Pancreas?
The pancreas is a gland that lies across the back of our upper abdomen, behind the stomach and intestines, in front of the spine and just above the level of our belly button. It is shaped like a cylinder and about 15cm long and 3cm wide, having two main exocrine and endocrine functions.
What does Pancreas do?
The pancreas is a vital endocrine organ responsible for producing two important hormones; glucagon and insulin. These hormones control glucose sugar levels. Insulin helps cells metabolize glucose to make energy and glucagon helps raise glucose levels when they are too low. The pancreas produces enzymes that the body needs to digest fats, carbohydrates and proteins and thus plays a crucial role in digestion.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when a malignant tumor develops within the tissues of the pancreas anywhere along its length. Due to the location of the pancreas, pancreatic cancer may be difficult to detect and is often diagnosed at much later stages of the disease.
How to detect pancreatic cancer at earlier stages? That’s the most frequently asked question even the best pancreatic cancer doctor often hears. For some valid reason, there’s no early detection mechanism is in practice as of now because this is comparatively a hidden organ within the body, where if tumors grow, they remain well-hidden too.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t show any symptoms until it reaches its advanced stages, a reason why it is called as silent disease because it doesn’t show its early signs. Once the cancer has progressed, the most common symptoms which might appear include; loss of appetite, unintended weight loss, abdominal (stomach) or lower back pain, blood clots, jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes) and depression.
The symptoms usually start appearing when the pancreatic cancer has already spread to other organs of the body. This is the reason it is commonly referred as a slow-growing cancer, that too with a very low survival rate. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate among all other major cancers.
A survival rate is a percentage that tells of how many people with the same cancer type and stage are alive after a certain period of time. This number doesn’t indicate how long people may live, instead it helps how successful cancerous treatment for a cancer might be. Most of the time, the survival rates are indicated in terms of five-year percentage. It is pertinent to mention here that the survival rates are not definite.
Causes of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is an uncommon cancer and not much is known about its causes despite so much research. However, there are some factors that increases the risks of pancreatic cancer. Smoking, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic stone disease increases the risk of pancreatic cancer to a greater extent.
Family history can also be a significant factor contributing towards the pancreatic cancer. Other than that, smoking, obesity with 30+ BMI, excessive usage of alcohol and diabetes’ history of more than 5 years could also be the major factors that could lead to developing pancreatic cancer.
Stages of Pancreatic Cancer
When the pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, healthcare partitionist further prescribes some other tests to determine the overall spread of the cancer and to understand where the cancer has spread, identifying the stage where it currently exists.
Stage 1: Tumors exist in the pancreas only
Stage 2: Tumors have spread to nearby abdominal tissues or lymph nodes
Stage 3: The cancer has spread to major blood vessels and lymph nodes
Stage 4: Tumors have spread to other organs, such as the liver
Is Pancreatic Cancer curable?
Most of the times when pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in later stages, there remains a very little or no hope for survival. But somehow if it gets diagnosed at earlier stage, then the pancreatic cancer, certainly is curable. One of the most common procedures that is being practiced by the surgeons to treat pancreatic cancer on initial stage, is Whipple’s Operation or pancreatectomy, a procedure when an infected portion of the pancreas is removed to eliminate the initial cancerous tumor.
It’s pretty unfortunate that the majority of pancreatic cancers are not diagnosed until the cancer reaches its advanced stage and spread beyond the hope for survival. Given such a condition, surgery may not be the appropriate option, reason being is the fact that removing the tumor will not cure the patient. In such a case, other treatment options to lessen the pain and prolong the lifespan a bit, may be considered.
How to prevent Pancreatic Cancer?
Although, as discussed earlier, not much is known about the causes of pancreatic cancer, so it cannot be specified that what measures need to be taken to prevent the cancerous disease. However, you may find some lifestyle modification and overall health approaches pretty helpful in reducing the pancreatic cancer’s risk. They may include avoid smoking, maintain healthy weight and prefer intaking healthy/organic food only.