The C-Word- Cancer, is by far the deadliest disease worldwide. Cancer may develop in the human body due to lifestyle, genetics, family history, exposure to viruses, and last but not least, the increase in longevity. In recent years, the disease has become more rampant than ever before due to varied factors such as the use of tobacco, adulterated food, processed food, use of pesticides in crops etc. Recently, we lost Mr. Manohar Parrikar, the erstwhile Defence Minister of India, and the Chief Minister of Goa, to pancreatic cancer. Today, we share with you information about Pancreatic Cancer.
What is Cancer?
The human body is made up of cells which grow and divide to make new cells as and when the body needs them. Cells when damaged or old are replaced by new cells. Cancer occurs when genetic changes interfere with this orderly process and there is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. This results in the formation of a mass called tumour which when malignant will spread to the other parts of the body. In certain types of cancer like Leukaemia, there is no formation of a tumour but the abnormal cells travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
Pancreas- The Pancreas, located in the abdomen, play the role of converting food into fuel through digestion (Exocrine Function). The Pancreas also help in regulating the blood sugar levels through the secretion of the hormones insulin and glucagon (Endocrine Function).
Pancreatic Cancer – Pancreatic Cancer occurs on the tissue of the pancreas when there is an abnormal division of cells forming a tumour. There are two types of Pancreatic cancer based on the cell it develops in –
- Exocrine Tumour
- Neuroendocrine Tumour
- Changes in the DNA causes pancreatic cancer. It may be an inherited genetic syndrome or arise over a period of time.
- Lesions on the pancreas may cause pancreatic cancer in the future
- Long-standing diabetes
- Ethnicity also plays a major role
- Longevity- People over 60 are more prone to pancreatic cancer
- Males are more likely to be affected
- Diet of red and processed meat causes pancreatic cancer
This kind of cancer does not have any symptoms in the early stages and by the time the symptoms do appear, cancer would have grown very large and in most cases spread to other areas. The symptoms, when they do start appearing, are vague and unexplained. The following symptoms point towards pancreatic cancer:
- Abdomen or back pain- The tumour on the pancreas grow very large and start pressing on the neighbouring organs causing abdominal pain. When it spreads to the nerves, it causes back pain.
- Jaundice – When the tumour grows at the head of the pancreas, it blocks the bile duct causing the bilirubin content of the blood to shoot up and causes jaundice. When pancreatic cancer spreads, it normally spreads to the liver first which again causes jaundice.
- Weight loss and no appetite are two other symptoms. Pancreatic cancer causes nausea, vomiting, and pain after eating as the tumour presses on the stomach.
- Gallbladder enlargement and liver enlargement also are indicative of pancreatic cancer.
- Painful blood clots in the large veins, especially the legs and sometimes even in the lungs are other symptoms.
- Pancreatic cancer changes the blood sugar levels which results in the development of sudden diabetes.
The aforesaid symptoms do not necessarily mean that one has cancer. But if these symptoms appear, it is better to get medical advice.
Since the pancreas are located deep within the abdomen, a physical examination will not help detect the tumour. Image study such as CT, MRI and Endoscopic Ultrasound help in detecting pancreatic cancer. Biopsy of a sample of the tumour tissue also helps in the diagnosis.
The standard treatment for pancreatic cancer includes surgery for the removal of the tumour followed by chemotherapy and radiation. In the USA, when pancreatic cancer is detected at an early stage they recommend treatment through clinical trials which offer more modern treatments.
Early detection is the key to successful treatment of pancreatic cancer as surgery offers the best chance for controlling it and when detected at a later stage, patients are not eligible for surgery.