Metastatic pancreatic cancer is the term used to describe the spread of the cancer to a distant organ. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells have the power to attack other organs directly or to spread via lymphatic channels and the blood stream to other areas of the body. This is called metastasis.
As cells keep on to growing uncontrollably, they form a pancreatic mass or tumor. These cells can suspend the normal function of the system or organ by smothering and killing the normal cells or by blocking the passageway from one organ to another.
The most common spread of Metastatic pancreatic cancer is to the abdominal cavity, the lymph nodes (leukemia) and liver (liver cancer). When the abdominal cavity or peritoneum is involved, tumor cells are released into ascites. If it happens that no previous diagnosis has been made, then sampling the fluid can establish Metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Where the pancreatic tumor is formed is known as the primary site. The metastases are the places where the cancer has spread. Regardless of the site of spread, the primary site of origin always refers to the cancer; therefore, pancreas cancer spread to the liver is called Metastatic pancreatic cancer and not liver cancer. When treating Metastatic cancers it is important to know the origin of the cancer because a treatment, which works well on liver cancer, may not work at all on a pancreatic tumor.
Metastatic pancreatic cancer is known as a stage4 (1V) pancreatic cancer. This staging refers to the degree of the cancer. Pancreas cancer survival is directly related to the staging of pancreatic tumor. This means that forty percent of individuals with a small adenocarcinoma or pancreatic tumor with no lymph nodes involved could be expected to live five years. With Metastatic pancreatic cancer, the estimated pancreas cancer survival time is probably no more than three to six months.
Pancreas cancer treatment is also dependent upon the staging. Operable pancreatic cancers are stage as 1 or 11. Localized but inoperable pancreatic adenocarcinomas are staged as 111. A stage111 pancreatic tumor is identified when the pancreatic tumor is wrapped around main blood vessels. It is not possible to operate under these conditions because these main blood vessels cannot be removed, as they are vital for life.
For a stage 111 locally advanced pancreatic tumor where there is no Metastatic pancreatic cancer, pancreas cancer treatment is likely to be a combination or chemotherapy and radiation. It is possible that sometimes, following this combined treatment that the tumor may shrink and become operable.
Metastatic pancreatic cancer treatments are palliative in nature. Gemcitabine is a relatively newly licensed chemotherapy drug has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration based on its quality of life benefits. Improving quality of life and relieving symptoms is a major goal in treating patients with Metastatic and other inoperable stages of cancer. Palliative pancreas cancer treatment is therefore not useless but of great value.