the development of pancreatic cancers begins in the tissues of the pancreas. the pancreas is an organ present in your abdomen which lies behind the lower part of the stomach. the pancreas release several enzymes that help with digestion. they also produce several hormones that help with your blood sugar management.
in the pancreas, there is a possibility of several growths occurring. these growths include cancerous as well as non-cancerous tumours. cancer that begins in the cells that line the pancreatic ducts is the most common type of pancreatic cancer.
generally, pancreatic cancer gets detected in the early stages. it is most curable at that time. often, pancreatic cancer remains asymptomatic until it spreads to the other organs.
the treatment options for pancreatic cancer are chosen on the basis of the extent of cancer. the treatment plans include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and sometimes all of them together.
symptoms of the condition
pancreatic cancers usually do not show any symptoms that are detectable in the early stages. until the disease has spread beyond the pancreas itself, it remains undiagnosed more often than not. pancreatic cancers usually have poor survival rates due to this reason. the only exception to these is the functioning pannets. in this, the overproduction of several active hormones may give rise to detectable symptoms.
pancreatic cancers are very rarely diagnosed before the age of 40. keeping this in mind, some of the common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include the following:
there might be noticeable pain in the back or in the abdomen and around the stomach. the location of the pain is very important in detecting the part of the pancreas where your cancer might occur, that is, the location of the tumour. this pain is generally worse at night and keeps increasing over a period of time.
jaundice, sometimes, might be an indication of developing pancreatic cancer. jaundice is recognizable by a yellow tint to the eyes or skin, and darkened urine. this may indicate cancer because if the cancer is in the head of the pancreas, it obstructs the common bile duct which results in jaundice.
sudden weight loss, loss of appetite may indicate loss of exocrine function which will result in poor digestion.
the development of a tumour in the pancreas has a chance of compressing neighbouring organs. this disrupts digestive processes and makes it difficult for the stomach to empty. this causes nausea and an unnecessary feeling of fullness. constipation may also occur due to this.
prolonged diabetes poses a huge risk of developing pancreatic cancer. sometimes cancer can be the cause of diabetes in an individual. people over the age of 50, who already suffer from diabetes, have eight times the usual risk of getting pancreatic cancer. this risk gradually decreases after three years of having diabetes. diabetes can be also considered as an early sign of the disease.
types of the disease
there are many types of pancreatic cancers and they are mainly divided into two categories. the majority of cases of pancreatic cancer occur in the part of the pancreas which produces the exocrine component (digestive enzymes). there are several types of cancers related to the exocrine components. a very few types of pancreatic cancers are related to the endocrine components. both categories of pancreatic cancers mostly occur in people over 40 and are more common in men than women. there are also a few rare subtypes that occur in women and children.
exocrine (nonendocrine) pancreatic cancer
cancer that develops from exocrine cells is known as exocrine pancreatic cancer. these exocrine cells make up the ducts of the pancreas and the endocrine glands. the function of the endocrine glands is to secrete enzymes that help in breaking down carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and acids.
almost 95% of pancreatic cancers are exocrine pancreatic cancers. they are as follows:
adenocarcinoma- adenocarcinoma, also known as ductal carcinoma, accounts for more than 90% of pancreatic cancer. the occurrence of this cancer is in the lining of the ducts in the pancreas. adenocarcinoma also has the chance of developing from the cells that create the pancreatic enzymes. this is known as acinar cell carcinoma. this accounts for 1-2% of exocrine cancers.
squamous cell carcinoma- this is an extremely rare type of nonendocrine cancer. this cancer forms in the pancreatic ducts. this is purely made of squamous cells which are rarely found in the pancreas. there have not been enough cases of squamous cell carcinoma reported. generally, most cases are discovered after metastasis.
adenosquamous carcinoma- this is also a rare type of pancreatic cancer. this accounts for only 1-4% of exocrine pancreatic cancers. this type of cancer is also more aggressive and has a poor prognosis. the tumour shows characteristics of both squamous cell carcinoma and ductal adenocarcinoma.
colloid carcinoma – this is another rare type of pancreatic cancer. colloid carcinomas account for only 1-3% of exocrine pancreatic cancers. a benign type of cyst gives rise to the tumours for colloid carcinoma.
neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer
cancer that develops from the cells of the endocrine gland of the pancreas is known as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (nets). the endocrine glands of the pancreas secrete hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar. these tumours are also known as islet cell tumours. neuroendocrine cancers make up less than 5% of pancreatic cancers. this makes it a very rare type of cancer.
risk factors related to the disease
risk factors related to pancreatic cancer are as follows:-
as with every other disease, the risk of pancreatic cancer increases with age. most of the time, pancreatic cancer occurs after the age of 65. in rare cases, people below 65 can be at risk of getting pancreatic cancer. also, men get affected by pancreatic cancer more than women.
the next risk factor is cigarette smoking. this is a very avoidable risk. the risk of getting pancreatic cancer is double in long term smokers. if one quits smoking, then the risk starts to decline gradually.
high body weight can be a cause of lots of diseases. hence, obesity can be a huge risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
sometimes cancer can be related to inheritance. if a person has a family history of pancreatic cancer, they have a higher chance of getting pancreatic cancer. the genes involved with this have not all been identified yet. but people have a 30-40% chance of developing pancreatic cancer. some people even have a lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
diabetes mellitus can also pose a risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
how is this condition diagnosed
if pancreatic cancer is suspected by your healthcare specialist, they will recommend you to go through these one or more procedures:
imaging tests help create pictures of the internal organs. some of these techniques include ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (mri), computerized tomography (ct) scans, or positron emission tomography (pet) scans.
sometimes a scope is used to create pictures of your pancreas. this is known as an endoscopic ultrasound. this endoscope is passed down your oesophagus and into your stomach for imaging.
a biopsy is a method that is widely used for diagnosing cancerous tissues. in this process, a sample of the tissue from your location of disease (in this case, pancreas) is taken. this tissue is then tested in the lab to look for any abnormal growth.
a blood test is another very effective method to test for any disease. in the case of cancer, the blood is tested for specific tumour making proteins. this test is not always reliable for pancreatic cancer.
after a diagnosis, the doctor tries to confirm the stage of your cancer. according to the stage, the patient is then provided with a treatment plan.
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