In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about Pancreatic Cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is the type of malignancy that begins in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen, near the stomach. Its function is endocrine and exocrine. Therefore, it releases enzymes, digestive juices, and hormones into the bloodstream and ducts. When cancer occurs, its role becomes compromised. An estimated 56,770 people will experience pancreatic cancer, and about 45,750 adults will die from it. It accounts for almost 3% of all cancers, and it has a 34% 5-year survival rate if diagnosed early. However, it is not easy to diagnose. For metastatic cases, the percentage drops down to 3%. This article will discuss the risk factors, causes, symptoms, and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?
A risk factor is something you can or cannot prevent and which increases your chances of developing a medical condition. Knowing what raises your likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer can help you avoid it in the future. Generally, having an average risk of pancreatic cancer gives you a 1% chance to have it in the future. These cases are mainly sporadic and present due to mutations that take place spontaneously after birth. Most of the time, doctors don’t know what the cause of pancreatic cancer is. However, they do know which factors raise your chance to experience it. The following are some of the most well-known risks linked with pancreatic cancer. Although some are unchangeable, others are easy to modify.
Risk factors you can’t change
Old age. Your chances of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Being older than 45 years old puts you at higher risk. About 90% of adults with pancreatic cancer are older than 55 years old.
Sex. Men are more prone to pancreatic cancer than women.
Race/ethnicity. Generally, Black people have higher chances of presenting with pancreatic cancer than Asians, Hispanics, or white people.
Family history. Familial pancreatic cancer is when two or more relatives of yours experienced the condition in your family. Having such a family history puts you at higher risk.
Inherited conditions. The following diseases put you at a significantly higher risk of having pancreatic cancer in your lifetime:
1. Hereditary pancreatitis (HP)
2. Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS)
3. Familial malignant melanoma and pancreatic cancer (FAMM-PC)
4. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome
5. Lynch syndrome
Risk factors you can change
- Obesity. Being obese increases your risk for many types of cancers. Physicians suggest losing weight, having a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
- Smoking. Tobacco smoking is harmful as it raises the likelihood of presenting with a variety of medical conditions, one of which is pancreatic cancer.
- Diabetes. Long-standing diabetes puts you at high risk for pancreatic cancer. Also, sudden-onset adult diabetes may be a sign of the condition.
- Chronic pancreatitis. Generally, chronic inflammatory states increase the possibilities of malignancy. The same stands for the pancreas, as well.
- Chemicals exposure. Pesticides, benzene, certain dyes, and petrochemicals are some chemicals you should avoid as they raise your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
- Bacteria and viruses. The bacterium helicobacter pylori, as well as HBV, increase your risk of experiencing pancreatic cancer.
- Cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis, commonly caused by chronic alcohol abuse or hepatitis viruses, puts you at high risk for presenting with pancreatic cancer.
What are the symptoms and signs of pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is usually an insidious disease. That means that it is difficult to diagnose. It has a silent clinical presentation that may lack symptoms or signs. It is not easy to make an early diagnosis, making it a disease that most doctors deal with while already at an advanced stage. Besides, there’s no specific test that may indicate pancreatic cancer as a screening procedure. Finally, pancreatic cancer may mimic other medical conditions, such as a peptic ulcer. The following are some of the most common symptoms and signs of pancreatic cancer:
- Jaundice, or yellow discoloration of the skin and sclera of the eyes
- Epigastric pain that may radiate in the back, in a belt-like distribution
- Blood clots formation leading to swelling of one or more limbs
- Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as burning sensation in the stomach
- Stools that have a different aspect and a foul smell
- Fatigue and loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
How can you diagnose pancreatic cancer?
When you consult your doctor about your symptoms, you will have to undergo a physical examination along with some routine blood tests. Carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) is also necessary to measure, as it is a tumor marker. To find out the location and extent of your cancer, you have to do some imaging tests, such as CT, PET-CT, PTC, ERCP, and ultrasound. To find out more about these procedures and their risks, consult your healthcare provider. The definitive way to diagnose pancreatic cancer is to perform a biopsy and test the obtained tissue to check for the presence of cancer cells. Molecular testing of the tumor is another option, as well.
What is the treatment of pancreatic cancer?
There are many different types of treating pancreatic cancer, according to the stage of the disease. You can discuss your options with your doctor, according to your tumor and its degree of extent, and choose among the following:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
Sometimes you need a combination of some of the above. Generally, pancreatic cancer is manageable if diagnosed early. Knowing the changes it makes to your body, will help you identify the red flags as soon as possible, and consult your doctor for early diagnosis and interventions.