Pancreatic cancer

Cancer of the pancreas tends to manifest itself whit symptoms of abdominal pain and loss of appetite. However, the early diagnosis of this form of cancer is highly difficult, because the symptoms would usually be evaluated as a simple stomach complaint by many patients.

What is it?

Cancer of the pancreas occurs when healthy cells transform or mutate, and begin growing rapidly. The most common malignant tumors of the pancreas, known as adenocarcinoma, come from the gland cells involved in the production of enzymes for digestion. These cells make up the lining of the pancreatic duct, through which digestive and pancreatic juices flow.

Cancer may also occur in cells that produce insulin, but this form of cancer is much less prevalent. Cancer of the pancreatic duct cells is often referred to as pancreatic cancer or adenocarcinoma of the pancreas.

Who is affected by this disease?

Pancreatic cancer most often occurs in patients between the ages of 40 and 60.

What are the symptoms?

The disease often starts whit obscure symptoms. Common symptoms at the initial stages include pain in the upper abdomen and loss of appetite. In general, complaints during this period tend to go unnoticed by both patient and doctor, and are evaluated as simple stomach complaints. However, the sudden onset of diabetes may be a sign and an early symptom of pancreatic cancer. The onset of diabetes in people with no family history of diabetes is also a sign of pancreatic cancer.

An attack of pancreatitis may be the first symptom of pancreatic cancer when factor such as gallstone or alcohol use are disregard. In later stages, symptoms may include severe stomach and back pain, jaundice, weight loss and stomach swelling. Unfortunately, these symptoms tend to indicate that it is too late for effective treatment.

What are the diagnostic methods?

Blood tests and screening techniques are used to diagnose cancer. The high blood levels of the CA 19-9 and CEA tumor markers may point to pancreatic cancer, but these tests are not always accurate. Bilirubin levels and liver function tests may exhibit a combination of results indicative of biliary tract obstruction. The techniques used in screening include ultrasound, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance. On the whole, the cancer is detected with such techniques. Sometimes a stent is inserted in the biliary-tract of patients with severe jaundice during the treatment preparation.

How is it treated?

The first method is surgery and the removal of the tumor. After surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy is required for almost all patients. When the tumor is in its later stages and if impossible to remove surgically, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may succeed in shrinking the tumor to allow for surgery. In cause the tumor has spread to distant organs of the body, such as the liver, the sole technique used is chemotherapy. The pancreas is a large organ that lies behind the lower part of the stomach and is located among many blood and lymph vessels. Therefore, the risk of tumor recurrence after the treatment is high. The disease may reappear within three years of the treatment on the average. It is estimated that long-term success rates may increase only if more effective chemotherapy agents are developed and used


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