Pancreatic cancer takes place in the pancreas which is an organ that wraps horizontally around the posterior, inferior area of the stomach. The job of the pancreas is to produce digestive enzymes, release hormones into the blood, and regulate blood sugar levels. There are two parts of the pancreas, the exocrine pancreas and the endocrine pancreas. The exocrine pancreas makes up 99 percent of the pancreas and produces digestive enzymes. The endocrine pancreas is the part that releases hormones and regulates blood sugar and insulin. Pancreatic cancer usually occurs in the cells of the exocrine pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer is hard to detect because the victim can have it for an extended period of time without knowing anything is wrong. The cancer spreads through the cells very rapidly and it can spread out of control before they have time to realize there is a problem. By the time the victim starts having pains and signs that something is wrong the cancer could have already progressed to a point where surgery is no longer a possibility. Surgery cannot be performed if the cancer causes too much swelling in the area. Pancreatic cancer has a poor rate of diagnosis because of the delayed symptoms that occur.
Signs of pancreatic cancer usually occur once the cancer has progressed to a very unhealthy level. Once the cancer has progressed to that point the signs start to become very clear that something is wrong. The skin turns a yellow color, a severe abdominal pain occurs, and there is a sudden increase in weight loss. Another good sign of pancreatic cancer is pale stool due to a blocked bile duct. Decreased appetite is also common since the swelling and inflammation of the pancreas makes the person feel a greater sense of satiety after eating less food than normal. It is important to see a doctor immediately if one notices any of these symptoms so that the doctor can try to treat it before it spreads even further out of control.
Determining a treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on what stage the cancer has progressed to. There are five stages of pancreatic cancer and they are numbered zero through four. Stage 0 is when the cancer has not spread and is only occupying one layer of cells. Stage 1 is when the cancer is localized to only the pancreas. Stage 2 is when the cancer begins to spread locally to outside areas of the pancreas and also to nearby lymph nodes. Stage 3 is when the cancer has spread to nearby nerves and/ or vessels but has not yet metastasized. Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread to other organs in the body. Determining what stage a person is at can be very difficult because it is not always obvious. There are many different options for treating pancreatic cancer but the most common is to have the patient undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments to shrink the cancer and then remove the pancreas before the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Pancreatic cancer has no sure way of being prevented but there are some things you can do to decrease your chances of getting it. One thing you can do is avoid smoking because the chemicals in the cigarettes can alter your DNA. Another great way to avoid cancer is to eat a healthy diet that consists of more natural foods and less processed foods that have been chemically and genetically altered. If you already avoid smoking and eat a healthy diet then you should maintain your healthy habits and see a doctor immediately if you have any reason to believe you could have pancreatic cancer.
- A&P Lecture notes: Endocrine System; Professor Snaric