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Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Pancreatic cancer is a very dangerous disease because it is often difficult to detect and is usually only felt at an advanced stage. Check out complete information about the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it below.

Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is the growth of malignant cells in the pancreatic tissue. The pancreas is an endocrine gland or organ located behind the stomach. The pancreas plays an important role in digestion to produce enzymes that the body needs in digesting fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

The pancreas also produces two important hormones, namely glucagon and insulin. Both of these hormones function in controlling the metabolism of glucose (sugar).

Insulin works to help cells metabolize glucose to produce energy, while glucagon helps increase glucose levels.

Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than women. Generally, experienced by patients who are elderly.

Type cancer it can affect the part of the pancreas that produces digestive enzymes (exocrine pancreas) or the part of the pancreas that produces hormones such as insulin and glucagon.

Malignancy of the exocrine pancreas is more common with the most common type being cancer of the glandular tissue or adenocarcinoma.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

This type of cancer is usually too small to cause symptoms and the symptoms then are often non-specific. Even as the cancer grows, some of the most common symptoms become subtle.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer that are rarely noticed include:

  • No appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to the lower back.
  • Blood clotting.
  • Skin and eyes appear yellowjaundice).
  • Itchy skin.
  • Dark urine.
  • Light colored stools.
  • Fatigue.

In addition to the signs above, this disease often triggers other health problems, such as diabetes And depression. However, the disease is generally not recognized by sufferers as part of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Call your doctor right away if you have unexplained and worrying symptoms. Many other conditions can cause these symptoms, so your doctor may be able to check whether these conditions are related to pancreatic cancer.

Also Read: Getting to Know Pancreas Function for the Body and Disorders That Can Occur

Pancreatic Cancer Causes

What causes this cancer is not yet known clearly, but there are several factors that can increase the risk of this disease, including smoking and having inherited gene mutations.

Gene mutations can be inherited from parents, can also be owned by someone after birth. Several types of genes that are susceptible to mutation and cause pancreatic cancer namely p16, TP53, KRAS, BRAF, and DPCA (SMAD4).

Although it is not clear what causes this condition, this cancer can occur when cells in the pancreas experience changes (mutations) in their DNA. DNA provides instructions for cells to grow uncontrollably and continue living after normal cells would die. These accumulating cells can form a tumor.

If left unchecked and not treated immediately, cancer cells can spread to nearby organs and blood vessels and can spread to further parts of the body.

Risk Factors

As previously mentioned, there are a number of factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer, including:

  • Smoke.
  • Overweight (obesity).
  • Diabetes.
  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
  • Have over 65 years of age.
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history of genetic syndromes that may increase cancer risk, including BRCA2 gene mutations, syndrome LynchAnd familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome.

A study revealed, the combination of smoking, a history of diabetes, and a poor diet can increase the risk of this cancer.

How Common is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is quite common in Indonesian society. Launching from Globocan, in 2018, there were around 4,940 people with a death rate reaching 4,812 people.

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

If the patient is suspected of having signs of pancreatic cancer, the doctor may order the patient to undergo one or more tests. Previously, the doctor would ask about the symptoms, medical history of the patient and family, and perform a physical examination.

Here are some tests that doctors may recommend to diagnose pancreatic cancer, including:

1. Imaging Test

This test helps make it easier for doctors to see the patient’s internal organs through pictures, including the pancreas. Tests used to diagnose cancer include ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or with positron emission tomography (PET).

2. Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)

This test uses an ultrasound device to produce images of the pancreas through the stomach. This tool is in the form of a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) attached with a light and a micro camera, which is then inserted through the esophagus to the stomach to produce an image of the pancreas.

3. Biopsy

A biopsy is taking a small sample of tissue to be examined under a microscope. Often a tissue sample is collected during EUS by passing a special instrument through the endoscope. Sometimes a tissue sample is collected from the pancreas by inserting a needle through the skin and into the pancreas (fine needle aspiration).

4. Blood Test

The next test tests the blood for specific proteins (tumor markers) that are secreted by cancer cells. One of the tumor marker tests used in pancreatic cancer is called CA19-9.

This test may be useful for understanding how the cancer is responding to treatment. However, blood tests are not always reliable for some people with pancreatic cancer who do not have elevated CA19-9 levels. From blood lab tests, you can also get increased amylase and lipase enzymes.

Also read: Diabetes and Its Relation to Increased Risk of Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Types

Basically, this cancer has two types, of course with symptoms causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.

1. Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma

This type develops in the exocrine glands of the pancreas. Most cells in the pancreas are exocrine cells that make pancreatic enzymes or form the pancreatic duct. About 95 percent of pancreatic cancers are pancreatic adenocarcinomas.

2. Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)

This less common type of cancer can develop in the endocrine cells of the pancreas. These cells make hormones, including helping control blood sugar.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer experienced. This step has two goals, namely to kill cancer cells and prevent their spread.

Here are some treatments to cure pancreatic cancer, including:

1. Operation

Cancer surgery can be performed based on the location and stage of the cancer. Surgery can remove all or part of the pancreas. This procedure can remove tumors, but will not remove cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. However, surgery may not be suitable for people with advanced cancer.

2. Radiation Therapy

Cancer that spreads outside the pancreas should get treatment as soon as possible, namely radiation therapy or radiotherapy. Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses X-rays and high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.

3. Chemotherapy

In some cases, doctors may combine other treatments with chemotherapywhich uses cancer-killing drugs to help prevent the growth of cancer cells in the future.

4. Targeted Therapy

This type of cancer treatment uses drugs or other procedures that specifically target cancer cells and work to destroy them. These drugs are designed not to harm healthy or normal cells.

5. Alternative Medicine

In advanced cancer patients who do not respond to medical treatment, alternative treatments may be able to help relieve the symptoms of pancreatic cancer or palliative care.

Here are a number of alternative therapies that can help overcome difficulties dealing with pancreatic cancer:

  • acupuncture.
  • Massage therapy.
  • Meditation.
  • Relaxation exercise.
  • Sport.
  • Art therapy.
  • Music therapy.
  • Spirituality.

Also Read: Signs Your Chemotherapy Is Working and How to Know It

Pancreatic Cancer Complications

When cancer develops and spreads to more distant parts of the body, it may cause complications such as:

1. Weight Loss

Weight loss can occur because cancer takes the body’s energy. Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment or a tumor pressing on the stomach may make it difficult to eat. This is what makes the body weight reduced.

2. Jaundice (Jaundice)

Cancer that blocks the liver’s bile ducts can cause jaundice. This disease is characterized by yellow skin and eyes, dark urine, and pale stools.

3. Experiencing Pain

The growing tumor can press on the nerves in the abdomen and cause pain that can be severe. Usually, the use of pain relievers can help patients feel more comfortable.

Other treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can help slow tumor growth and reduce pain.

4. Blockage in the intestine

These cancerous growths can press on the small intestine (duodenum) and ultimately block the flow of digested food from the stomach to the intestines. Your doctor may suggest placing a tube (stent) in your small intestine to hold it in place.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

The cause of this cancer is not known with certainty, which means it is not yet known how steps can be taken to prevent cancer. However, several factors that increase the risk of this cancer can be prevented, except for gender, age and DNA.

Here are some lifestyle changes or healthy lifestyles that can reduce cancer risk:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Reduce consumption of red meat.

Immediately do a doctor’s examination if you experience signs of pancreatic cancer, especially if you are in the category of people who are more at risk.

Consult your doctor about your and your family’s medical history to get more appropriate treatment. Hopefully this information is useful, Healthy Friends.

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  6. Moore, Kristeen and Kimberly H. 2019. Everything You Need to Know About Pancreatic Cancer. (Accessed February 28, 2023)

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