Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which cells become abnormal and multiply without control or order and form a malignant tumor in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland about 6 inches long that is shaped like a thin tadpole lying on its side. It lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail. The pancreas has “exocrine” cells that produce juices to help digest food; and, “endocrine” cells that produce hormones, such as insulin and glucagons.
These help control blood sugar levels, and help the body use and store energy from food. About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine cells. RISK FACTORS for developing pancreatic cancer include: *Smoking *Age: most cases occur in people over age 60 *Race: Black people have pancreatic cancer more often than Asians, Hispanics or whites *Obesity or being overweight *Long-standing or unexplained diabetes *Chronic pancreatitis *Uncommon hereditary conditions such as:
hereditary pancreatitis multiple endocrine neoplasia type I syndrome hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, Lynch syndrome) von Hippel-Lindau syndrome ataxia-telangiectasia familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM) breast cancer BRCA2 families *Family history: Risk increases three times if mother, father, brother or sister affected SYMPTOMS TO REPORT include: *Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) *Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back *Unexplained weight loss *Loss of appetite *Fatigue DIAGNOSING AND STAGING.
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to find and diagnose early because there are not any signs or symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms that may be present are similar to symptoms of other diseases. Also, the pancreas is hidden behind the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen and bile ducts. The following tests and procedures may be used to diagnose pancreatic cancer and determine the stage of the disease. Staging is the process of finding out if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It helps to determine the correct treatment.
Physical exam of entire body, including health habits and past illnesses and treatments X-rays with a high energy beam that goes through body onto film to make pictures of areas inside the body Fine needle aspiration biopsy Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) Computerized Tomography (CT) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Positron emission tomography (PET) scan Laparoscopy Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) STAGES Stage 0: Cancer is found only in the lining of the pancreas Stage I: Cancer is only in the pancreas.
IA: tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller; IB: tumor is larger than 2 centimeters Stage II: Cancer has spread to nearby organs or tissues and possibly lymph nodes IIA: Cancer has spread to nearby organs and tissues but not lymph nodes IIB: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not organs or tissues Stage III: Cancer has spread to major blood vessels near the pancreas and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes Stage IV: Cancer has spread to distant organs such as the liver, lung or peritoneal cavity. It may have also spread to organs near the pancreas or to lymph nodes.