Spotlight on Pancreatic Cancer

With the death of Luciano Pavarotti from pancreatic cancer the spotlight is rather on this disease and how it occurs.

It is a serious cancer that develops because cancerous cells build up in pancreatic tissues. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that break down the food we eat, producing hormones such as insulin that control the blood sugar levels in our body.

These hormones also help to control the carbohydrate metabolism.

The danger with pancreatic cancer is that it is difficult to diagnose and unlikely to be detected in its early stages but then spreads very rapidly. Its symptoms may not manifest themselves until the cancer is at an advanced stage by which time it would have metastasized in various other parts of the body and treatment such as surgery may not be possible.

The surprising fact is that researchers are only now discovering more about the disease and its genetic basis. This understanding could lead to an improvement in treatments and knowledge about changes in lifestyle that could reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

As stated before, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer manifest themselves and resemble the symptoms of other diseases.

The symptoms appear when the cancer is at an advanced stage and they include;

  • Appetite loss and unexplained weight loss;
  • Pain in the upper abdomen that spreads to the upper and middle back;
  • The occurrence of jaundice is common;
  • The accumulation of high levels of bile acids, which lead to severe itching;
  • Difficulty in digesting food because the pancreatic enzymes are prevented from being released into the intestine;
  • and nausea and vomiting caused by the upper portion of the digestive tract being blocked by a tumor.

Studies have revealed some risk factors for pancreatic cancer and they include smoking, chronic diabetes and pancreatitis, exposure to chemicals, obesity, and diet.

There is also a genetic predisposition to this disease so it could run in a family. Also, some genetic diseases can increase the chances of a person developing pancreatic cancer.

It has also been established that African-American people have a higher predisposition to this type of cancer and that more men than women are at risk for it.

If you find that you have developed any of the symptoms listed above then check with a physician. They could be an indication of any other disease but tests will be performed to diagnose pancreatic cancer if it is suspected that it is present.

There is no specific screening test for pancreatic cancer but your doctor will probably recommend any or all of the following tests: CT scan and MRI, ultrasound imaging, endoscopic ultrasound, biopsy, laparoscopy, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatiography.

Treatment will depend on how far the cancer has spread and where it is located, and on the patient’s age, medical history, and personal preferences. Since, generally, the cancer is not detected till it is at a late stage surgery may not be an option.

Palliative care and pain management may be offered to improve the patient’s quality of life. If surgery is possible it is generally complex and is preceded or followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

If you have pancreatic cancer that is at an advanced stage then you could try clinical trials where new medication or treatments are being tested, such as gene therapy.

A nanotechnology treatment is also being presented as an option to treat pancreatic tumors.

To prevent pancreatic cancer from developing, change your lifestyle habits to include a healthier diet, regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.

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