Pancreatic Cancer Overview
Pancreatic cancer is caused due to the aggressive growth of cells in the pancreas. It is often referred to as a silent disease as the symptoms can only be recognized at a much-advanced stage, wherein the treatment options are limited. The pancreas is located horizontally behind the stomach and plays an important role in releasing enzymes to help in digestion and also produces hormones to control blood sugar levels. Patients with diabetes are more prone to pancreatic cancer that shows signs of weight loss, jaundice and strong pain in the abdomen that may spread to the back.
What Are The Common Causes of Pancreatic Cancer?
While it is hard to point out the definitive causes of pancreatic cancer, there are several risk factors that may lead to it. Identifying these risk factors and taking the requisite preventive measures may help reduce the chances of pancreatic cancer occurrence. Some of the common pancreatic cancer causes are –
Genetic Disorder – Genes passed on from ancestors may have pancreatic cancer causing cells. The pancreatic cells undergo an alteration due to changes in the DNA. These altered cells undergo rapid changes and grow abruptly to form a tumour. The tumour starts spreading to the healthy part of the pancreas and spreads to nearby organs, tissues, lymph node, blood vessels and the infection reaches the brain eventually.
Exposure to Environmental Toxins – Constant inhalation of toxic chemicals in workplaces and the surrounding environment may cause pancreatic cancer. Individuals working in the dye, metal refining and pesticide factories should be cautious. Substances such as carcinogen and free radicals may destroy cells, impacting the functionality of the pancreas and other organs.
Other Medical Conditions- People suffering from other serious diseases are also prone to pancreatic cancer. If the underlying disease is not treated appropriately, it leads to pancreatic cancer. Other diseases include –
- Scarring of the liver or cirrhosis.
- Stomach infection caused by ulcer-causing bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- Periodontal disease or gingivitis.
- Swelling of the pancreas or chronic pancreatitis.
Lifestyle Factors – Leading a healthy lifestyle can prevent various diseases including pancreatic cancer. Certain lifestyle habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, chain-smoking, eating junk food must be avoided. Instead, healthy lifestyle habits such as eating fibre rich food with less meat, maintaining a healthy body weight with regular exercise, controlled alcohol consumption should be practised.
Treatment Options: Is Surgery The Only Way?
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the severity of the disease, the stage of cancer, type, age and other health disorders. Common procedures of treating pancreatic cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Since pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at the advanced stages, most often they are treated to remove the cancerous parts through surgery or through medicines to enhance life expectancy. There are various types of surgeries to remove the infected part of the pancreas which are –
Whipple procedure – In this procedure, surgery is performed to remove the infected pancreatic head or the entire pancreas along with few parts of the adjacent organs infected by cancer. Once the infected parts are removed the other organs are reconnected. A Whipple procedure is a complicated surgery which might lead to infections, bleeding and stomach problems.
Distal pancreatectomy – This surgery is recommended to treat islet cells or neuroendocrine tumours. In this procedure, the doctor aims to remove the pancreatic tail along with other parts of the pancreas and spleen.
Total pancreatectomy- When the entire pancreas is infected, your surgeon would recommend pancreatectomy to remove the entire pancreas. An individual can survive without pancreas with the help of artificial insulin. However, it increases the risk of diabetes.
Chemotherapy – This procedure involves medication that targets cancer-causing cells. The medication is given to the patients orally or through IV. It helps in preventing cell division and stops cancer from spreading. Sometimes chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy which is called chemoradiation, to stop cancer from spreading to nearby organs. Chemoradiation therapy is also performed to reduce the size of the tumour before surgery.
Radiation Therapy – High energy X-ray and proton beams are used to eradicate cancer cells in this procedure. This treatment can be recommended before or after the surgery, depending on the stage of the cancer. This treatment is done by exposing affected body parts to radiation.
Palliative Care – It is also known as supportive care. Patients suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer, with less or no cure are recommended to go through palliative care. In this procedure, the patient is put through special care to reduce the discomfort and pain. The palliative care specialists work along with the patients and their families to improve mental and emotional health.