Pancreatic Cancer

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Anatomically speaking, the pancreas is located in the abdominal area. Physiologically, it has two functions, which are to produce insulin, or endocrine function, and enzymes, or endocrine functions that aid in the breakdown of proteins.

Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, and is one of the most aggressive types of cancer. Most often, this type of cancer can’t be detected earlier and has a poor prognosis.

Image of Pancreatic Cancer

Tumor on the Head of the Pancreas

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms, Signs

People who have pancreatic cancer will manifest the following symptoms and signs:

  • Trousseau sign, which is the manifestation of blood clots or superficial veins
  • Cachexia or weight loss that is significant in nature
  • Pain in the uppermost part of the abdomen
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Itching
  • Jaundice which is the yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Body weakness
  • Acholic stool or grey or pale stool
  • Steatorrhea or excess fat found in the stool
  • Elevation of the blood sugar level

What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?

There are a lot of causes that could trigger the development of pancreatic cancer. The cause for one person with pancreatic cancer will vary from another person who also shares the same disease. The following are the common etiological or risk factors in this kind of disease condition:

Genetic reasons

There are two types of genetic reasons that experts have found to link with pancreatic cancer. One is the DNA type and the other is the family type or hereditary.

1. DNA type

Here there is a mutation or damage to the DNA and to the genes involved in the normal division of the cell. This will lead to the erratic cellular division.  Cancer will occur when the mutation of the gene is unable to correct the damaged DNA and it is also unable to undergo apoptosis or cellular suicide.  This kind of genetic trait is a result from after birth rather from inheriting it from your parents.

2. Hereditary type

This is a gene that can be inherited from any member of the family. This kind of gene is innate in nature, which leads to the person developing pancreatic cancer later in his or her life.

Negative lifestyle

This is practically the most common cause that leads to a person developing pancreatic cancer. According to reports, it mostly exists in African American males and those who smoke cigars or tobacco or who drink alcoholic beverages heavily.  In addition, obesity and diet is also linked to the development of pancreatic cancer. Aside from that, those who have sedentary lifestyle or those who do not do any form of exercise are at high risk for acquiring this disease condition. Also, persons who eat small amounts of vegetables and fruits and consume high quantities of meat are at much higher risk of having this kind of disease condition.

Pancreas Cancer Staging

Staging of pancreatic cancer is done to determine the extent of the disease condition. This is also the primary basis of the treatment that will be provided. Staging is known after the patient has undergone tests.  The following are the stages of pancreatic cancer:

Stage 0

The tumor is still described as pancreatic carcinoma in situ and it is confined in the pancreas without metastasis.

Stage IA

Here, the tumor has not yet spread to nearby organs and it is confined to the pancreas. Its size is 2 centimeters.

Stage IB

Here, the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters and is still confined in the pancreas without metastasis.

Stage IIA

Here, the pancreatic tumor has grown outside of the pancreas but has not invaded in the large blood vessels.

Stage IIB

Here, the tumor has already spread to surrounding lymph nodes without invading the large blood vessels.

Stage III

Here, the pancreas cancer has already begun to spread to the surrounding large blood vessels or nerves and to lymph nodes.

Stage IV

This is the worst stage of pancreatic cancer, where it has already spread to distant areas or organs.

Pancreas Cancer Diagnosis

In diagnosing pancreas cancer, the following tests should be undergone:

  • Physical examination
  • Medical history exam
  • Ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Angiogram
  • Magnetic  resonance imaging
  • Barium Swallows
  • PET scan
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • ERCP or Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
  • Angiography
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography
  • Fine needle biopsy

Pancreas Cancer Treatment

In treating pancreatic cancer, the following are recommended by physicians and medical experts:


Surgery is the primary treatment for pancreatic cancer.  It is the ideal treatment especially to persons who are in the early stages or those whose cancer cells are confined to the pancreas. Surgery is the act of removing part or all of the parts of the pancreas that is affected by the cancer.  The common surgical procedures done are total pancreatectomy, distal pancreatectomy and Whipple procedure.

Pancreas Cancer pics

Total Pancreatectomy Showing Large Mass at the Tail

Radiation therapy

The radiation therapy is a kind of treatment, which targets the destruction of cancer to prevent metastasis and from its abnormal production. It uses a high-energy form of x-rays which will lead the cancer cells to commit apoptosis or cellular suicide.


Chemotherapy makes use of the powerful pharmacological chemical treatment, which interferes in cellular division procedure, which also leads to the cancer cells to commit suicide or medically referred to as apoptosis.

Pain management

This is a vital aspect in the care of persons with pancreatic cancer. Pain can be controlled. The attack of the pain management is done via aggressive therapy that has constant assessment. It makes use of pharmacological treatment that is classified under opioid or non-opioid medications.

Targeted therapy

The targeted therapy also makes use of pharmacological treatments, which are drugs that attack abnormalities that are specific within the cellular cancer. Such medications include erlotinib, which functions by blocking the chemicals which signals the cells of the cancer to divide and grow.

Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis

As mentioned earlier, there is a poor prognosis of pancreatic cancer despite the advancement of either medical or surgical treatment procedure. It is brought about by the fact that this is a silent killer that is often only discovered in the late stages of the progression.

Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rate & Life Expectancy

Generally there is a low survival rate for persons who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is attributable because of the fact that only a small percent of cases are caught while the cancerous cells are still confined in the pancreas at the time of the diagnosis. Most often, when upon diagnosing, the pancreatic cancer is already in the stage of malignancy and has spread to other parts of the body.

In addition, there is also a low life expectancy, which will run about 8 months to one year, maximum. Persons who lived for five years are of the 5 percent of persons who are diagnosed with this kind of disease condition. In sum, the stage of the pancreatic cancer will determine the survival rate and the life expectancy of the person. The higher the stage of the pancreatic cancer that the person is in; the person will have a lower life expectancy and survival rate.

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Posted in Cancer
One comment on “Pancreatic Cancer
  1. Edgar Harris says:

    My brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he has been advised to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. I understand that we only have one pancreas and in case the organ is out, what will replace it for its functions for digestion? Are there special diets to be considered? Thank you so much. I would appreciate your reply to help my brother go through his condition.

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