For cancer patients or for someone who has close relatives and friends that were diagnosed, the best thing to do is to understand the disease. Knowing what to expect will help you or your love ones survive the symptoms of cancer and be ready in what to do next.
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreas is sitting behind the stomach and in front of the spinal column. Pancreatic cancer happens when uncontrollable cancerous cells in the pancreas grow. Pancreas looks more likely a fish with a broad head, tapering body, and a narrow, pointed tail. Its size for adult is 6 inches long and 2 inches wide.
Pancreas secretes digestive juice and hormones that regulates blood sugar. There are two types of cells in the pancreas. These are the exocrine and endocrine cells. Exocrine glands are copious than other cells in the pancreas. This gland makes pancreatic enzymes that are released in the intestines to help the process of digestion. Enzymes are first to release into tiny tubes called ducts. Cells that produce hormones are called endocrine. Endocrine cells are small cluster called islets. Islets make important hormones like insulin and glucagon. This glucagon helps in controlling blood sugar levels. Islets released these hormones directly into the blood.
Cancer that grows from these two types can behave and cause symptoms differently.
Cancer in exocrine cells is the most common pancreatic cancer. It is difficult to diagnose a pancreatic cancer with this type because it doesn’t have signs and symptoms. Treatments for exocrine pancreatic cancer mostly don’t cure the cancer.
Other Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma – A large percentage of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma. The cancer cell usually starts in the ducts of the pancreas. In some cases, there are cancerous cells that grow in the pancreatic enzymes, this is called acinar cells carcinomas.
Less common types of exocrine cancer – these include adenosquamous carcinomas. Squamous cells carcinomas, signet ring cells carcinomas, undifferentiated carcinomas and undifferentiated carcinomas with giant cells.
PANCREATIC ENDOCRINE TUMORS (neuroendocrine tumors) – This is a very rare case of pancreatic tumor. They are also called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) or islet cells tumors.
NETS can be benign or malignant (cancerous). Under the microscope, benign and malignant NETS are similar. So the diagnosis would not be explicit unless the cancer has spread to other organs of the body.
How important our pancreas is?
As mentioned above, pancreas has a significant part in digestion. After the stomach digest the food for about 2 hours, the partly digested food move to duodenum. As the food passes the duodenum, pancreas produce the digestive juices which run down in the pancreatic duct and mix with the food. Digestive juice contains enzymes that help to breakdown the food into very small particles. These particles are absorbed into the body through the small intestine.
One of the function of pancreas is it produces insulin. Because of insulin our blood sugar is in stable level. If the level of the sugar in the blood is high, it produces more insulin. If the level is low, it produces less.
If your pancreas releases less insulin, you probably have diabetes.
Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors
According to ACS (American Cancer Society), the pancreatic risk factor can be categorized into factors that can be changed and cannot be changed.
For Risk Factor that can be changed cigarette smoking is the most conventional risk of pancreatic cancer. The increase of risk is doubled in rate for the people who are smoking compared to those who are not. Cigarette smoking has an effect with pancreatic cancer in about 20% to 30%.
Overweight, Obesity and exposure to certain chemicals are also factors that can be changed.
For factors that can’t be changed here are the lists:
- Family history
- Inherited genes
- Chronic Pancreatitis
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Stomach problems
Diet, coffee, not physically active, alcohols are also known to be risk factors however they do not have clear effects with pancreatic cancer.
Awareness of any cancer types’ symptoms is very crucial. Knowing the symptoms can make an early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and this could treat or cure the early staged cancer.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Dark urine
- Light colored greasy tools
- Itchy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gallbladder and liver enlargement
- Blood clots