Understanding Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant condition of the pancreas, which is an abdominal organ lying parallel to the lower portion of the stomach.

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells undergo genetic mutation. Mutation makes the cells of the pancreas multiply autonomously and uncontrollably, thus resulting in the formation of a tumor mass. The cancer cells infiltrate the neighboring organs and may spread to distant organs as well.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Clinical manifestations may be obscure during the early stage of the disease. By and large, the symptoms become noticeable only after the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage.

The important pancreatic cancer symptoms are:

• Pain in the upper quadrant of the abdomen, that radiates to the back
• Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and white of the eyes)
• Inexplicable weight reduction, loss of appetite
• Blood clots
• Depression

What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?

• Individuals over 60 years are at greater risk.
• Being black is one of the significant etiological factors
• Obesity increases the risk considerably.
• Chronic pancreatitis is a vital triggering factor
• Smoking is another noteworthy triggering cause
• Diabetes increases the chances of developing cancer of the pancreas.
• Family history of genetic disorders like Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Lynch Syndrome, BRCA2 gene mutation, etc.
• A personal / a family history of cancer of the pancreas

Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment for pancreatic cancer is based on the stage of the cancer, the age of the patient, his general health status and his treatment choice. Normally, the treatment regimen includes: surgical intervention, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Surgery 

Surgeries performed to manage pancreatic cancer include:

• Surgeries for tumors in the pancreatic head: Whipple procedure (pancreato-duodenectomy) is performed to effectively managed cancer of the head of the pancreas. The Whipple procedure removes the head of the pancreas, along with a part of the duodenum, gall bladder and a portion of the bile duct. A segment of the stomach may be removed as well. The remaining parts of the pancreas, stomach and intestines are reconnected to allow digestion of food.

• Surgery for tumors in the pancreatic tail and body: distal pancreatectomy is done to remove the tail of the pancreas or the tail and a small portion of the body.

Radiation Therapy

Powerful energy beams, like X-rays are utilized to obliterate the cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be external (i.e. teletherapy), from a machine outside the body or may be internal (i.e. brachytherapy), placed inside the body near the tumor mass.

Chemotherapy 

Powerful anti cancer drugs are administered to kill the cancer cells. The drugs may be administered orally or intravenously; and may be given singly, or in combination with each other.

Targeted Therapy 

Targeted therapy uses strong anti cancer drugs that hit definite abnormalities in the tumor cells. The targeted drug erlotinib (Tarceva) slows down or checks chemicals that send messages to the cancer cells to propagate.