Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant neoplasm originating from transformed cells arising in tissues forming the pancreas. The most common type of pancreatic cancer, accounting for 95% of these tumours, is adenocarcinoma (tumours exhibiting glandular architecture on light microscopy) arising within the exocrine component of the pancreas. 

A minority arise from islet cells, and are classified as neuroendocrine tumours. The signs and symptoms that eventually lead to the diagnosis depend on the location, the size, and the tissue type of the tumour, and may include abdominal pain, lower back pain and jaundice.

More dangerous, or malignant tumours form when the cancer cells migrate to other parts of the body through the blood or lymph systems. When a tumour successfully spreads to other parts of the body and grows, invading and destroying other healthy tissues, it is said to have metastasized. This process itself is called metastasis, and the result is a more serious condition that is very difficult to treat.


The most common type of pancreatic cancer, accounting for 95% of these tumours, is adenocarcinoma (tumours exhibiting glandular architecture on light microscopy) arising within the exocrine component of the pancreas. A minority arise from islet cells, and are classified as neuroendocrine tumours. The signs and symptoms that eventually lead to the diagnosis depend on the location, the size, and the tissue type of the tumour, and may include abdominal pain, lower back pain and jaundice.

When a tumour successfully spreads to other parts of the body and grows, invading and destroying other healthy tissues, it is said to have metastasized. This process itself is called metastasis, and the result is a more serious condition that is very difficult to treat.

Symptoms

Early pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms, and the later symptoms are usually nonspecific and varied. Therefore, pancreatic cancer is often not diagnosed until it is advanced. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that typically radiates to the back

  • Heartburn

  • Poor appetite or nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhoea, loose stools

  • Significant weight loss

  • Painless jaundice (yellow tint to whites of eyes or yellowish skin, possibly in combination with darkened urine). The jaundice may be associated with itching as the salt from excess bile can cause skin irritation

  • Pulmonary embolisms due to pancreatic cancers producing blood clotting chemicals

  • Diabetes mellitus, or elevated blood sugar levels. Many patients with pancreatic cancer develop diabetes months to even years before they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, suggesting that the onset of diabetes in an elderly individual may be an early warning sign of pancreatic cancer

  • Signs of cancer metastasis. Typically, pancreatic cancer first metastasises to regional lymph nodes, and later to the liver or to the peritoneal cavity and rarely, to the lungs; it rarely metastasises to bone or brain.

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Causes

Although pancreatic cancer is not yet fully understood, several risk factors and causes that have been identified may increase your chance of developing it:


Ageing:
Pancreatic cancer can affect people of any age, but it mainly affects people aged 50 to 80. Around 63% of people diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas are over 70.


Smoking :
Smoking is associated with almost a third of all pancreatic cancer cases. Smoking cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco can all increase your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. This is because tobacco smoke contains harmful toxins and chemicals that can cause irritation and inflammation (swelling) in the tissues and organs within your body.


Chronic Pancreatitis:
Chronic pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas) will increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. Although very uncommon, patients with hereditary (inherited) pancreatitis have a particularly high risk of pancreatic cancer, especially from the age of 40.

Treatment

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer. 

Surgery, Radiation therapy, Chemotherapy and Targeted therapy are the treatments that a doctor will recommend depending on the stage of cancer.

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