Abnormal cancerous growth in the pancreas causes pancreatic cancer. The cancerous growth usually starts in the exocrine cells of the pancreas.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Depending on its origin, pancreatic cancer is of the following types:
- Adenocarcinoma: This is the most common type of pancreatic cancer which starts in the exocrine cells of the pancreas.
- Neuroendocrine Tumours: This rare cancer starts in the islet cells of the pancreas.
The initial symptoms of pancreatic cancer may not be apparent. The symptoms, however, begin to show up gradually. These include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen.
- Lack of appetite.
- Abrupt weight loss.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Diabetes Mellitus.
- Pulmonary embolism.
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not known. The possible causes, however, include:
- Chronic pancreatitis.
Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed by:
- Physical examination: The doctor will understand the previous medical history and examine for common symptoms.
- Blood test: A blood test will be conducted for evaluating the levels of bilirubin, liver enzymes and protein CA19-9 in the blood. A higher level indicates pancreatic cancer.
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests such as CT scans, and MRIs will be performed to gauge the size, location, and stage of the tumour.
- Biopsy: The doctor will extract a small tissue from the area and examine for the presence of cancer cells.
The treatment strategy for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, age, and overall health of the patient. Surgery is usually considered if the cancer is confined to the pancreas. It may be combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy for better outcomes.
- Surgery: Surgery will be considered if the cancer is restricted to the pancreas. The doctor may remove the pancreatic head (Whipple’s procedure) along with a part of the small intestine or gallbladder depending on the patient’s condition.
- Radiation therapy: High energy X-rays will be used to destroy cancer cells. These radiations may be administered before or after the surgery depending on the patient’s condition.
- Chemotherapy: High doses of anti-cancer drugs will be administered to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to remove cells from the body.