More than 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancer of pancreas each year. One out of 76 people in the United States is at risk of this form of cancer. It affects both men and women but those who are above 45 are more prone. Pancreatic cancer belongs to the list of top 10 most common cancers in the country. Its tendency to spread without exhibiting any symptoms makes it fourth among the deadliest cancers.
Cancer of the pancreas is categorized according to the part affected. It can be the exocrine, the part that produces digestive secretions or the endocrine, the part that manufactures insulin and other hormones. Exocrine pancreatic cancer is further classified into subcategories that include pancreatic adenocarcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, giant cell carcinoma, and acinar cell carcinoma. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is the most common accounting for 95 percent of all exocrine pancreatic cancer cases.
Cancer that develops in the part of the pancreas that makes hormones is called neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer or islet cell pancreatic cancer. This is less common than the first category mentioned. It is broken down into several types depending on the type of hormone-producing cell where it develops. These include insulinomas (insulin-producing cell), somatostatinomas (somatostatin-making cell), gastrinomas (gastrin-producing cell), glucagonomas (glucagon-producing cell), and VIPomas (vasoactive intestinal peptide-making cell).
There’s also another type of pancreatic cancer that arises from the tube that connects the small intestine and the pancreas. It’s technically not considered as pancreatic cancer but it causes symptoms that are similar. Treatment is also the same.
Pancreatic cancer takes place when cells in the pancreas grow uncontrollably and form a malignant tumor. The cause as to why this happens is not known. However, it has been established that smoking is a primary risk factor that doubles your risk for this cancer. Medical conditions such as diabetes or chronic pancreatitis also at heighten the risk. Other risk factors are age, gender (male) and family history.
There is no sure way of preventing this disease. But it would help a lot to maintain a healthy weight and not smoke. As mentioned earlier, smoking makes you twice more susceptible to this form of cancer. Keeping the right weight is necessary to prevent diabetes that can also up your risk significantly.
Diagnosis for this type of cancer is done through history and physical exam. A doctor will also recommend imaging tests such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). The cancer will be confirmed through biopsy, which is removal of cancer tissue. This is to be done through an operation or inserting a needle through the skin.
As for the treatment, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are done to stop the cancer cells from spreading. Surgery is done to cure the cancer as well as reduce the symptoms. Chemotherapy and radiation are given in combination to inhibit the growth of the cancer cells. Palliative care is also necessary to help the patient cope with the disease more effectively.