Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is a gland located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach that is part of the digestive system . It consists of three parts – head, body and tail – and has two distinct functions: the endocrine function, responsible for the production of insulin (a hormone that controls the blood glucose level) and the exocrine function, responsible for the production of enzymes involved digestion and absorption of food.

Pancreatic cancer is rare in young people under the age of 30 . It affects practically the same proportion of men and women, in general, over the age of 50, especially between 65 and 80 years old.

In most cases, it is not possible to determine the cause of the disease, but the most important risk factor is smoking . The others are: chronic pancreatitis, previous applications of radiotherapy, type 2 diabetes mellitus, prolonged exposure to pesticides and chemicals, certain genetic syndromes and surgeries to treat ulcers or gallbladder removal.

The most common types of the disease are adenocarcinoma (the most frequent and most related to smoking) and pancreatic islet cell tumors.

 

Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer is a disease that takes time to show symptoms, which slows down and makes diagnosis difficult. When they appear, the most common are: mild or severe abdominal pain that radiates to the back, jaundice, loss of appetite and weight, tiredness, anemia, type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, some of these signs may indicate that malignant cells have already invaded the bloodstream and affected neighboring organs. In such cases, the disease may be at a more advanced stage and is more resistant to treatment.

 

Diagnosis

The diagnosis takes into account the signs and symptoms and the results of laboratory tests (especially the measurement of a protein in the blood) and imaging, such as ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). In some cases, a biopsy is required to complete the diagnosis.

 

Prevention

Not smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol are important measures to prevent pancreatic cancer. People with other risk factors, such as chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, family history or undergoing certain surgeries of the stomach, duodenum and gallbladder should maintain regular medical monitoring.

 

Treatment

The treatment of pancreatic cancer requires, whenever possible, surgery for the complete removal of the tumor . When there are already foci of metastases impairing the functioning of other organs, it can be performed to reduce the adverse symptoms caused by the disease. Another palliative resource is the placement of endoprostheses.

Chemotherapy, associated or not with radiotherapy, is a therapeutic resource to prevent tumor recurrence, to control the disease or relieve symptoms.

Pancreatic cancer is a serious disease. The characteristics of symptoms that, at the beginning, are nonspecific and can be confused with manifestations of other diseases , often preclude early diagnosis, which is fundamental for the success of treatment.

 

Recommendations

* Band pain in the upper abdomen, which radiates to the back requires medical attention to be evaluated;

* Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Especially, do not smoke and avoid excesses with alcohol, the two most important risk factors for the appearance of pancreatic cancer.

 

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