Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare disorder, accounting for about 3 in 100 cases of all cancer in the US. However, the disease, which mainly affects people over 50, is becoming more common in the US as life expectancy increases. Pancreatic cancer occurs almost twice as frequently in men as in women and the disease is slightly more common in African-Americans and Polynesians. People with pancreatic cancer usually have few symptoms until the disorder reaches an advanced stage and often not until it has spread to other parts of the body, typically the lymph nodes in the abdomen and the liver. The disease is nearly always fatal and is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in the US. Little is known about the causes of pancreatic cancer, but it has been linked with diet, in particular with fatty foods and high alcohol consumption. A higher incidence of the cancer in certain ethnic groups indicates that genetic factors may be involved. The risk of the disease is greater in people who smoke and in those with chronic pancreatitis.
The pancreas is an organ involved in endocrine functions, such as the secretion of insulin and exocrine functions, such as the secretion of insulin and exocrine functions, such as the secretion of enzymes involved in digestion. It is located underneath the stomach and liver and adjacent to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).
Causes: The cause of this cancer remains unknown. The most established risk factor for the development of this cancer is cigarette smoking. Other less common risk factors are:
• A high fat diet
• Chronic pancreatitis, generally related to high alcohol intake
• Workers in contact with organic chemicals
Symptoms: when the cancer originates in the head of the pancreas, which is the closest area to the duodenum, patients suffer from jaundice and generalized itching. If, on the other hand, the tumor originates in the area of the tail of the pancreas, which is furthest from the duodenum, the tumor can grow to larger sizes before causing symptoms. This condition can result in the obstruction of bile excretion leading to the development of
• Pale-colored stools
• Generalized itching
• Abdominal pain
• Weight loss
• A palpable mass.
Many patients with pancreatic cancer also have symptoms of cancer that has spread to other organs.
Diagnosis: Cancer of the pancreas can be easily seen with computed tomography or ultrasound of the abdomen. The diagnosis needs to be confirmed by obtaining a biopsy.
Complications: Complications arise from the spread (metastasis) of the cancer to other organs or from the physical size of the tumor causing obstruction of the bile duct or other internal structures.
Self Treatment: An overall healthy lifestyle with a well balanced diet is essential to maintain general health during the treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Medical Treatment: Although treatment with chemotherapy has not been very encouraging, promising new chemotherapy agents are always being investigated. Combinations of treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy may help control symptoms in some cases of advanced cancer. Surgical Treatment: Removal of the tumor offers the only chance for cure of this type of cancer. Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of patients can have their tumor fully removed. The rest of the patients have cancers that have grown too extensive to remove completely.
Prevention: the only well established risk for the development of pancreatic cancer is cigarette smoking. Smoking cessation should, therefore, result in a decreased chance of development this type of cancer.
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