Pancreatic cancer: From symptoms to treatment, know it all

Updated on: 10 February 2022, 11:18 am IST

Pancreatic cancer is more common than you think, so it’s high time you keep an eye on the symptoms, and get treated without any delay.

pancreatic cancer
Know all about pancreatic cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Pancreatic cancer has its origin in the cells of the pancreas — an organ responsible for the release of digestive enzymes that help manage blood sugar.

Worldwide, pancreatic cancer is the 13th most common form of cancer with a slightly higher incidence in men than women. In India, the incidence of pancreatic cancer is 0.2–1.8 per 100,000 women and 0.5–2.4 per 100,000 men. The disease represents approximately 3 percent of all cancers and 7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States.

ABDOMINAL
Abdominal pain extending to the back can be a sign. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells of the pancreas undergo changes (mutations) that cause them to multiply out of control, resulting in a mass. Sometimes, this mass may not be cancerous (benign), however, other times the mass could turn out to be malignant (cancerous). Pancreatic cancer is divided into two types, of which, exocrine tumors are more common than neuroendocrine tumors.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

For most people, the symptoms of the disease are not readily noticeable, and this is the primary reason for the disease to go unnoticed in the initial stages. However, with the progression of the disease, people may notice the following symptoms:

* Abdominal pain that may extend to the back
* Skin and eyes appear yellowish (jaundice)
* Overall fatigue and loss of appetite
* Vomiting and nausea
* Weight loss
* Itching
* High-coloured urine
* New or worsening of existing diabetes

Causes of pancreatic cancer

As far as the cause of pancreatic cancer is considered, the exact cause of the disease is still not clear. Experts suggest the role of genetics as a strong element to the disease. Other factors that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer include:

* Smoking
* Diabetes
* Chronic inflammation of the pancreas
genetic syndromes that run in families which can increase cancer risk
* Family history of pancreatic cancer
* Obesity
* Older age, as it is diagnosed in most people after age 65.

According to a large study, a combination of poor diet, smoking, and long-standing diabetes increases the risk of pancreatic cancer beyond the risk of any one of these factors alone.

Also Read: Study unveils the link between inflammation and pancreatic cancer development

smoking and cancer
Break up with smoking to keep cancer risk at bay! Image: Shutterstock

Treatment of pancreatic cancer

The treatment of this cancer depends on certain factors such as the location of the tumour, stage of the disease, your overall health, and whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body or not. Treatment options for the disease include:

* Surgical removal of the cancerous part of the pancreas (resection) – called a pancreatico-duodenectomy or distal pancreatectomy, depending on the location of the cancer.
* Radiation therapy makes use of high-speed energy to kill cancer cells.
* Chemotherapy makes use of drugs to kill cancer cells.
* Immunotherapy has largely been ineffective against the treatment of pancreatic cancer, but about 1 percent of people with the disease and a specific genetic change may benefit from it.
*Targeted therapy is directed at specific proteins and genes that help in the growth of cancer. Genetic testing is used to determine if targeted therapy is right for you.

Prevention

The prevention of this type of cancer is difficult as we don’t know what actually causes the disease. However, a healthy lifestyle does help in the long run and these tips may help reduce the risk of getting it.

* Do not smoke and QUIT if you do
* Maintain a healthy weight with a proper diet and regular exercise
* Take measures to avoid getting diabetes and if you are suffering from it, control your blood sugar levels.
* Drink alcohol in moderation, or quit drinking altogether.
* Protect yourself from toxins at the workplace by using safety equipment.

Dr Amit Parasanis Dr Amit Parasanis

Dr Amit Parasanis, Onco Surgeon, Jupiter Hospital, Pune

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