Pancreatic Cancer

Of the more serious cancers, pancreatic cancer certainly ranks high in terms of mortality rates. Indeed between 2003 and 2007, 162,878 Americans lost their lives to this devastating disease. The estimated new cases and deaths from pancreatic cancer in the United States in 2012 is successively 43,920 (new cases) and 37,390 (deaths) according to the National Cancer Institute (NC). The causes, symptoms, and typical treatments for this disease will be further reviewed here.

Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, an organ which aids in digestion and metabolic regulation.  As with most other kinds of cancer, early detection is very important in controlling the disease and hoping allowing the patient to make a full recovery.  However this can be difficult because it often progresses very quickly and without much obvious signs.

As with many other types of cancer, the exact causes are not fully understood.  However there are factors which increase the risk of developing the disease.  It is found that people with diabetes have a higher than normal risk of developing pancreatic cancer.  In addition people with long-term inflammation of the pancreas are at risk.  And smoking seems to play an important role in increasing the risk of developing the disease.

Pancreatic cancer tends to occur more in women than men and its likelihood increases with age. Genetic predisposition may play a role as well but this appears to be relatively minor.

Pancreatic cancer can exhibit little to no symptoms for quite a while.  And unfortunately when the symptoms do appear, the disease can already be fairly advanced.

But early symptoms of the disease can include dark urine or clay colored and dry stools.  The person suffering from the disease may also be quite weak and fatigued.  The skin color of sufferers can turn a yellow color.  Some patients suffer from nausea and vomiting.  There may also be pain in the abdominal area.

Other symptoms may include back pain; diarrhea and indigestion.

If a doctor suspects his/her patient as having pancreatic cancer, several tests can be typically employed.  A CT scan of the abdomen may be used to detect unusual masses or other anomalies. Endoscopic ultrasound is also used as well as a possible MRI of the abdomen.  The doctor may also order an endoscopic biopsy of the pancreas.

Since pancreatic cancer tends to be identified once it has progressed fairly extensively, surgical removal of the tumor is usually not possible.  But if a surgical procedure can be done, the standard type is called a pancreaticoduodenectomy.

If it is found that the tumor has not spread beyond the pancreas, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used.  But if it has spread beyond the pancreas, then other drugs may be recommended.

If the patient has a tumor which is localized in the pancreas and it can receive the proper surgical procedure, then his/her prospects for survival are good.  However if the tumor has spread beyond the pancreas and surgery is not a feasible option, the long term prognosis is not very encouraging at this point.

Even more sobering is the statistic that 95% of the people diagnosed with this disease will not be alive five years hence.  However new therapies are in development and advances in medications will hopefully help this long term prognosis and reduce the mortality rate associated with this disease.


Leave a Reply