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What is Pancreatic Cancer?


Brief description of the pancreas

The pancreas is a gland that is located deep in the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine. It makes enzymes that help in the digestion and produces hormones that control blood sugar levels.

Definition of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of death especially in the United States, after lung and colorectal cancers

Pancreatic cancer is simply the cancer of the pancreas. It begins when abnormal cells in the pancreas begin to grow and divide out of control and form a tumour because normally organs like the pancreas are made up of cells, cells divide to form new cells as the body needs them, when cells get old, they die and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this processes breaks, new cells are formed when the body does not need them, or when the old cells do not die. The extra cells may form a mass of tissue called tumour. Some tumours are benign which means they ae abnormal but they do not invade other parts of the body and some tumours are malignant, malignant tumours are called cancer, they cells grow out of control and unlike benign tumours, malignant tumours invade tissues and organs of the body.

Types of pancreatic cancer

There are two types of pancreatic cancer which are the Exocrine cancers and Endocrine cancers.

Exocrine tumors are the majority of pancreatic cancers, and the most common form is called adenocarcinoma, which begin in gland cells, usually in the ducts of the pancreas. These tumors tend to be more aggressive than neuroendocrine tumors, the kind that Jobs had, but if caught early enough they can be treated effectively with surgery.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors constitute only 1% of all pancreatic cancers. They can be benign or malignant, but the distinction is often unclear and sometimes apparent only when the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas.

The five-year survival rate for neuroendocrine tumors can range from 50% to 80%, compared with less than 5% for adenocarcinoma.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer:

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to your back
  • Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Depression
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

Treatment Options:

Pancreatic cancer is usually controllable only through removal by surgery, and only if found before it has spread, according to the National Cancer Institute. Palliative care can help a patient’s quality of life if the disease has spread.

Causes of pancreatic cancer:

It’s not clear what causes pancreatic cancer in most cases. Doctors have identified factors, such as smoking, that increase your risk of developing the disease.

Risk Factors of pancreatic cancer:

Family History
Risk increases if a person has two or more first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) who have had the disease, a first-degree relative who developed pancreatic cancer before the age of 50, or an inherited genetic syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer. The risk increases if a greater number of family members are affected. Also, the risk of pancreatic cancer increases if there is a history of familial breast, ovarian or colon cancer, familial melanoma or hereditary pancreatitis. Approximately 10 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are related to a family history of the disease.

Pancreatic cancer is more likely to occur in people who have long-standing (over 5 years) diabetes.

Smoking is a significant risk factor and may cause about 20-30 percent of all exocrine pancreatic cancer cases. People who smoke cigarettes are 2 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people who have never smoked.

Race (Ethnicity)
African-Americans have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer compared to individuals of Asian, Hispanic or Caucasian descent. There is also a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer among Ashkenazi Jews, possibly due to a mutation involving the breast cancer (BRCA2) gene that is found in about 1 percent of individuals of this background.

The chance of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 60.

Slightly more men are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than women. This may be linked to higher smoking rates in men.

The link of diet and the development of pancreatic cancer is still unclear. A diet high in red and processed meats is thought to increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. A diet high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk.

Obese people have a 20 percent increased risk of developing the disease compared to people who are of normal weight. The risk is even higher in people who are obese during early adulthood. People with excessive abdominal fat may have an increased risk independent of general obesity.

Complications of Pancreatic cancer:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Jaundice
  3. Pain
  4. Intestinal/bowel obstruction

Prevention of pancreatic cancer:

  1. Avoid smoking
  2. Maintain a healthy wealth
  3. Eat a healthy diet
  4. Drink enough water


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