Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the pancreas, a large organ located behind the stomach in the abdomen. Pancreatic cancer can either develop from the cells that line the pancreas or from cells that produce hormones and enzymes. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most serious forms of cancer and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer depend on where the tumor is located in the pancreas and can include abdominal pain, jaundice, weight loss, dark urine, light-colored stool, and fatigue. Treatment for pancreatic cancer typically includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Unfortunately, in most cases, pancreatic cancer is not detected until it is advanced, making it difficult to treat. Therefore, early detection is key to improving the prognosis and longevity of those with pancreatic cancer.
The most common symptom of pancreatic cancer is abdominal pain that radiates to the back. Other symptoms may include weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, new-onset diabetes, and fatigue. Blood clots and pain due to metastases to other organs can also occur.
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. However, certain factors may increase ones risk of developing the disease. These risk factors include smoking, being older than 45, having a family history of pancreatic cancer, and having a personal history of chronic pancreatitis. Other potential risk factors include obesity, diabetes, a diet high in red or processed meat, and a history of exposure to certain chemicals.
The following are the major risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer:
- Age – As the age increases, the risk of pancreatic cancer increases.
- Family History – Having close relatives with pancreatic cancer increases the risk.
- Smoking – Smoking is linked to a greater risk for pancreatic cancer.
- Obesity – Being overweight or obese increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Diabetes – Controlling diabetes may help reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Diet – Diets high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Chronic Pancreatitis – Long-term inflammation of the pancreas increases the risk.
- Gender – Men are at a greater risk than women for pancreatic cancer.
- Race – African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is typically diagnosed with imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). A sample of tissue can be taken using a procedure called endoscopic biopsy, and this will be examined in a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests may also be done to check for elevated levels of certain enzymes produced by pancreatic cancers and to rule out other causes of symptoms.
The various subtypes of pancreatic cancer are classified based on the type of cell that the cancer originated from. The main subtypes of pancreatic cancer include adenocarcinoma, which accounts for 95% of pancreatic cancer cases and is the most common form of pancreatic cancer, ductal adenocarcinomas, which are tumors that originate in the pancreatic ducts, intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs), which are tumors that form within the pancreatic ducts, and neuroendocrine tumors, which are tumors that originate from hormone-producing cells. In some cases, the cancer cell type cannot be identified, in which case it is classified as an unspecified type. Other rare types of pancreatic cancer include squamous cell carcinomas and sarcomas.
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer vary depending on the type, stage and location of the cancer. Common treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotheraphy, immunotherapy and target therapy. These treatments may be done singly, or in combination.
Surgery is the most common treatment for pancreatic cancer, and may include a partial or complete removal of the pancreas. Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays or other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy helps the body’s own immune system fight cancer. Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs that attack cancer cells specifically.
Complementary and alternative treatments are also available for those with pancreatic cancer. These treatments may include massage, acupuncture, yoga, diet and nutrition, and other holistic therapies.
To reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, you should:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, and limit your intake of processed and high-fat foods.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Try to stay at a healthy weight by exercising regularly and reducing your calorie intake.
- Exercise regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking or jogging, can help to reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, so it is important to stop smoking if you are a smoker.
- Limit alcohol intake: Drinking alcohol in moderation can help reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
- Get regular medical care: Regular medical check-ups can help to detect any health issues early and can help to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of Pancreatic cancer. Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer, and men also tend to have more advanced stages at diagnosis. Additionally, men are more likely to have lower overall survival rates and higher mortality rates than women. Women, however, tend to have longer overall survival and better response to treatment. Research suggests that the reason for this gender difference may be due to the fact that women have smaller tumor sizes and more favorable tumor biology at diagnosis. Finally, men tend to be more likely to receive aggressive treatment and surgical resection than women, who may be more likely to receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of Pancreatic cancer. Adequate nutrition plays a major role in providing the body with the necessary energy, proteins and other nutrients needed for healing and general well-being. It can also help maintain strength, prevent infection and minimize side effects from treatment. In patients with Pancreatic cancer, maintaining adequate nutrition is particularly important given the risk of weight loss due to anorexia, cachexia and malabsorption. Additionally, certain nutrition interventions have been shown to have positive impacts on cancer outcomes. A balanced diet low in saturated fat, red meat, and processed foods has been shown to reduce pancreatic cancer risk. Studies have also found that higher intake of dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fats, fruits, and vegetables may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, adequate intake of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are also important in cancer management. Therefore, nutrition plays a critical role in the management of Pancreatic cancer, and it is important to support those diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer to ensure they are receiving adequate nutrition.
Physical activity has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body, which can reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Additionally, physical activity helps to maintain a healthy body weight, which can lower the risk of developing many types of cancers, including pancreatic cancer. Finally, physical activity can help reduce stress, and high levels of stress have also been found to increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.