The pancreas is a gland between your stomach and spine. It produces juices that break down food and hormones that control blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer usually begins in the cells that produce the juices.
Some risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include smoking, long-term diabetes, chronic pancreatitis and certain hereditary disorders. Pancreatic cancer spreads quickly and is hard to catch early. It doesn’t cause symptoms right away. When you do get them, they are often vague. Also, the tumors are difficult to see or feel during routine exams because of where they’re located. Doctors use a physical exam, blood tests, imaging tests and a biopsy to diagnose it.
It is very important to distinguish between exocrine and endocrine cancers of the pancreas. They have distinct risk factors and causes, have different signs and symptoms, are diagnosed using different tests, are treated in different ways, and have different prognoses.
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often vague or unnoticed in its early stages, but can include:
- Abdominal pain (a dull ache which comes and goes) in the upper abdomen which radiates to the back
- Bloating of the abdomen or a sense of early fullness with meals
- Pale- or clay-colored stools
- Darker urine
- Weight loss
- Malaise (a general feeling of discomfort, illness or uneasiness)
- Loss of appetite
- Elevated blood sugars
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Itching (all over)
If you experience any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor.
Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you. The main types of treatment for pancreatic cancer are used alone or in combination. They include:
- Surgery is used to remove all of the cancer or to provide relief
- Ablative techniques include radiofrequency or microwave ablation (a needle or microwaves are used to destroy the tumor), cryosurgery (the tumor is destroyed by freezing it), and embolization (the tumor is destroyed by cutting off its blood supply
- Radiation therapy is helpful in treating exocrine pancreatic cancer and to help alleviate symptoms
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body, making it potentially useful for cancers that have spread
- Pain control is also an important part of treatment for many patients. Pain in the abdomen or back can be a big problem for people, especially those with exocrine pancreatic cancer. Treatment is available to help relieve this pain.