Definition of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic CancerPancreatic Cancer – malignant growths of the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer seldom shows symptoms until the cancer is well advanced or metastasized, making it among the most lethal cancers and the fourth leading cause of deaths from cancer in the United States.

The one-year survival rate is about 24 percent

Symptoms and Diagnostic Path

When symptoms do appear as the cancer advances, they include

  • Jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin that results from the cancer compressing the common bile duct and blocking the flow of bile into the duodenum
  • Abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
  • Digestive disturbances that result from the cancer’s interference with pancreatic enzyme production or blockage of the ducts that carry the secretions out of the pancreas

The diagnostic path includes imaging procedures such as ultrasound, computed tomography (ct) scan, or positron emission tomography (pet) scan to determine the location and extent of the cancer as well as lymph node involvement and regional metastasis. Percutaneous (needle) biopsy confirms the diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Treatment depends on how extensively the cancer has spread. Surgery is most effective when the cancer is small, remains confined to the pancreas, and is located in the head of the pancreas. Pancreatectomy, partial or complete, is complex surgery with significant risks and consequences (including diabetes).

It is a viable option only when the surgeon is reasonably certain it will completely remove the cancer.

About 90 percent of pancreatic cancers have metastasized by the time of diagnosis

Chemotherapy may be effective in achieving remission. External beam radiation therapy can shrink the cancer to relieve symptoms.

There are few clear risk factors or screening procedures for pancreatic cancer. There is some evidence of a hereditary component to pancreatic cancer, as it appears to run in families, though researchers have yet to detect the responsible genes.

In people at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer because of family history, some cancer experts suggest annual endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ercp).

This endoscopic procedure allows the gastroenterologist to examine the pancreatic duct for signs of precancerous changes in the cells (dysplasia). Areas of focus in research include gene therapy and immunotherapy (also called biological therapy), though therapeutic application of these remains investigational.


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