Pancreatic cancer begins within the tissue of the pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for releasing enzymes which aid digestion and create hormones which manage blood sugar levels.
Pancreatic cancer most often rapidly spreads to organs nearby and is very seldom diagnosed in its early stages. However for those with a family or personal history of cancer or pancreatic cysts, regular screenings aid in detecting problems at earlier stages. One of the telltale signs of pancreatic cancer is the development of diabetes, especially when it is accompanied with jaundice, pain within the upper abdomen that radiates towards the back, as well as through weight loss.
Pancreatic Cancer Stages
Doctors use the TNM stage system to identify and describe the stages of cancer; they then use the results they gathered through diagnostic tests to answer the following questions.
Tumor: (T) How large in size the tumor is and where it is located?
Node: (N) Whether or not the tumor has spread towards the lymph nodes, and if so, how many have been affected?
Metastasis: (M) Whether or not cancer has spread to other body parts, and if so, how much?
These results are combined to find the stage of cancer for each person. In total there are 5 stages for cancer, stage 0 to stage 4.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
There are usually no visible signs of pancreatic cancer when it is in its early stages; however, for cancer which has progressed, there are a number of signs, some of which include;
- A sudden loss of appetite
- Sudden and unintended weight loss
- A feeling of fatigue
- Onset of depression
- New onset of diabetes
- Pain within the abdomen which radiates towards the back
- A yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes visible due to jaundice
- Formation of blood clots
Pancreatic Cancer Causes
Doctors are not clear on the causes of pancreatic cancer however there are a number of factors which increase a person’s risk of developing the disease, such as smoking.
Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors
There are a number of habits or actions which increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer. They include;
- Being of older age, as most are diagnosed after the age of 65
- Having a family history of pancreatic cancer
- Having genetic syndromes which increase the risk of cancer like a BRCA2 mutation of the gene, familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome and Lynch syndrome
Pancreatic Cancer Complications
As pancreatic cancer progresses, it tends to cause a number of complications such as;
- Weight loss as a result of nausea or vomiting due to cancer treatment
- Jaundice which results due to a blockage in the bile duct of the liver
- Severe pain which results due to the growing tumor pressing against nerves within the abdomen
- Bowel obstruction which results due to growing cancer which presses on the first part of the small intestines
Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, such as;
- Stopping the habit of smoking
- Making an active effort to maintain a healthy weight
- Choosing a healthy diet which encompasses all food groups