Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the pancreas, a large gland located behind the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes, as well as the hormones insulin and glucagon. Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control, forming a tumor. If the cells are malignant, they can spread to other body parts, most commonly the lungs, bones, liver, abdominal wall and lymph nodes. Depending on what type of cell they start in, there are two types of pancreatic tumors, exocrine and neuroendocrine. The vast majority are exocrine tumors. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in men and fifth in women.
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be vague and hard to define, developing slowly. Doctors can’t find a tumor in an exam because the organ is deep within the abdomen, and there isn’t a standard diagnostic test for this disease. These are all reasons why pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed after it has already progressed to advanced stages.
Common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Light-colored stool
- Dark urine
- Weight loss
- Pain tn the back or abdomen
The standard treatments for pancreatic cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery is the most effective treatment for controlling the disease for a longer period of time. There are two main types of surgery that are typically used to remove the tumor:
- Whipple procedure
- Distal pancreatectomy
For cases in which the cancer can’t be removed, there are also palliative surgeries that can imporve quality of life. Targeted therapy drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors are sometimes used to treat pancreatic cancer. Patients who have their pancreas removed have to take medications to replace pancreatic enzymes to help them digest and absorb nutrients. Clinical trials are another option for pancreatic cancer patients.Previous Page Last Review Date: April 16, 2020