Every 0.5-2.4 per 100,000 men and 0.2-1.8 per 100,000 women are affected by pancreatic cancer in India. The prevalence of pancreatic cancer is more in males than females. There is less awareness regarding the disease because it is mostly seen in developed countries. However, it warrants attention and awareness because of the exceptionally high mortality rate. The mortality rate for men and women is 10 years and 8 years respectively. Let’s understand more about pancreatic cancer, what are the causes of the deadly disease and how a gastrointestinal surgeon can treat it.
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreas is in abdominal region (above the level of belly button). There are two kinds of cells in pancreas: 1) The exocrine cells which make enzymes that are released into the small intestine for digesting food properly. 2) The endocrine cells make hormones including insulin and glucagon to help manage sugar levels in the blood.
The health of pancreas is important because of its functions and proximity to other essential organs such as the duodenum, bile ducts, and other blood vessels and nerves. Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells are developed in the pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer can be categorized in:
1. Endocrine Pancreatic Cancer – when the cancer affects the endocrine cells
2. Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer – when the cancer affects the pancreatic duct
The problem with pancreatic cancer is that it is often difficult to diagnose. Several patients do not exhibit symptoms in the early stages of the cancer. Sometimes, the signs are visible only when the cancer has spread to several other parts of the body and pancreatic surgery is rendered impractical. It is the reason why pancreatic cancer has low survival rate.
What are the Signs of Pancreatic Cancer?
As said earlier, it may be difficult to detect pancreatic cancer because of lack of affordable screening tests. However, look out for the following symptoms:
>>Most patients with pancreatic cancer have jaundice.
>>They experience abdominal pain and back pain.
>>Depression and fatigue can also affect patients of pancreatic cancer.
>>They may experience nausea, loss of appetite and lose a substantial amount of weight.
>>Swollen stomach and diarrhea are other symptoms of the cancer.
Are you at Risk for developing Pancreatic Cancer?
>>Prolonged consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
>>Chronic use of alcohol.
>>History of chronic pancreatitis.
>>Certain hereditary conditions such as hereditary pancreatitis can put you at risk.
>>If any one in your family has a history of pancreatic cancer, it is better to get checked.
>>Type II Diabetes and Obesity are also major risk factors.
>>Prolonged exposure to insecticides, silica dust, aliphatic solvents, etc.
>>The incidence rate is higher in people with age above 50 years.
How to diagnose the Cancer of Pancreas?
When you visit a gastrointestinal surgeon, he may prescribe the following tests to diagnose the problem:
a. CT scan and MRI
b. Endoscopic Ultrasound
d. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
e. Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography
What is the Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer?
The treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. However, your treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
There are two types of surgeries for treating pancreatic cancer:
1. Curative Surgery– In a situation, when the tumor is operable and there is possibility of curing the cancer.
i. Pancreatic head/uncinate tumors require Whipple’s pancreaticoduodenectomy
ii. Distal neck, body & tail tumors require RAMPS (Radical Antegrade Modular PancreatoSplenectomy)
2. Palliative Surgery – It helps in treating tumor symptoms, primarily jaundice.
Pancreatic cancer is a lethal disease that can cost you life. It is better to learn the symptoms of the disease and check for them regularly.
If you fall in the high risk category, it is best to take measures and eliminate the preventative risk factors.