Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms - Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that affects the pancreas. The pancreas is a small organ in the abdomen that produces enzymes that help digest food and hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer can develop from two types of cells in the pancreas: exocrine cells and neuroendocrine cells.
Pancreatic cancer has a meager survival rate, with only about 9% of people diagnosed with the disease surviving for five years or more.
There are two main types of pancreatic cancer: exocrine pancreatic cancer and neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer.
Exocrine pancreatic cancer is the most common type, accounting for about 95% of all cases. This type of cancer starts in the cells that comprise the bulk of the pancreas and produce digestive enzymes. The most common type of exocrine pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma. Other less common types include squamous cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, and undifferentiated carcinoma.
Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer is a rarer type that starts in the cells producing hormones. These cells are called islet cells, scattered throughout the pancreas. Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer is also known as islet cell tumor or neuroendocrine tumor. The most common type of neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer is a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (PNET). Other less common types include gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) and somatostatinoma.
Pancreatic cancer can also be classified by how it spreads. Metastatic pancreatic cancer means that cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs. Localized pancreatic cancer means that the cancer is confined to the pancreas and has not spread to other body parts. Locally advanced pancreatic cancer means that cancer has spread from the pancreas to nearby tissues or organs, such as the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
The stage of cancer describes how far it has spread. Pancreatic cancer usually gets diagnosed at an advanced stage because it often does not cause any symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms occur, they are often vague and similar to other conditions. For this reason, pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a "silent killer."
Stage I: The cancer is confined to the pancreas and has not spread to nearby tissues or organs.
Stage II: Cancer has spread from the pancreas to nearby tissues or organs, such as the stomach or duodenum.
Stage III: Cancer has spread from the pancreas to distant body parts, such as the liver or lungs.
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to multiple organs and tissues and is considered incurable.
Pancreatic cancer often does not cause any symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms occur, they can be vague and similar to other conditions. One of the most common signs of pancreatic cancer is abdominal pain. Other pancreatic cancer symptoms include weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), nausea, vomiting, dark urine, light-colored stools, and changes in blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer may also cause neuropathy (nerve damage), leading to pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet.
If a person experiences any of these signs of pancreatic cancer, it is essential to see a doctor so that they can rule out other possible causes. Pancreatic cancer often gets diagnosed at an advanced stage, so early detection is crucial. Pancreatic cancer can be challenging to treat and has a meager survival rate. However, treatment options are improving, and there is hope for those diagnosed with the disease.
The most common type of pancreatic cancer treatment is surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tumor from the pancreas. Depending on the cancer stage, this may be the only treatment necessary. However, most pancreatic cancer patients must undergo radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. A doctor may give it before or after surgery, and it may shrink a tumor before surgery. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. It is often given intravenously (through an IV), and a doctor may give it before or after surgery.
The standard treatment for pancreatic cancer is known as the Whipple procedure. This surgery involves removing the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach, and the bile duct. The remaining pancreas gets reconnected to the gastrointestinal tract.
In some cases, a less invasive surgery called a distal pancreatectomy might be performed. This surgery removes only the tail and body of the pancreas, and it is often used to treat pancreatic cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or organs.