Pancreatic Cancer – How to Avoid? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


What is meant by Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic Cancer is known as “Pancreatic Carcinoma”.

Pancreatic Cancer

What are pancreas and what is its function?

Pancreas is a large organ that is located behind the stomach.

The function of the pancreas is to synthesize and release the enzymes into the lumen of the intestine for the absorption of food, mainly fats.

Pancreas releases some hormones by its specialized cells like alpha and beta cells.
Alpha cells of pancreas release glucagon and beta cells of the islets of langerhans of the pancreas release insulin.

These hormones are very essential for maintaining the blood glucose levels. Insulin and glucagon have opposite effects on the receptors.

Incidence and Causes of Pancreatic Cancer:

Tumors may also occur in these specialized islet cells, such type of cancer is called islet cell tumors.

Pancreatic stellate cell activation in chronic...

Pancreatic stellate cell activation in chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic stellate cells are activated by profibrogenic mediators, such as ethanol metabolites and cytokines/growth factors. Perpetuation of stellate cell activation under persisting pathological conditions results in pancreatic fibrosis. Jaster Molecular Cancer 2004 3:26 doi:10.1186/1476-4598-3-2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main cause of pancreatic cancer is not well known but it is thought to be caused commonly in the:

  • Diabetic patients
  • People with Chronic pancreatitis (long term inflammation of the pancreas)
  • People with smoking habits
  • Advanced age
  • Women seems to be affected more with pancreatic cancer than men and this risk increases with age.
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Some of the cases of pancreatic cancer are related to genetic syndromes that pass down through generations of families.

Symptoms of the Pancreatic Cancer:

Pancreatic cancer develops without any symptoms in the early stages. It is only in the advanced stage that pancreatic cancer in a person gets detected.

Some of the symptoms of the pancreatic cancer:

  • Dark colored urine
  • Stools in clay color
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice with yellow coloration of the skin, mucous membrane and eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain and discomfort in the abdomen mainly in the upper part of the belly
  • Back pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Blood clots
  • Bloating
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Tests to detect the Pancreatic Cancer:

Some of the tests performed to detect the pancreatic cancer include

• Pancreatic biopsy
• CT scan of the abdomen
• MRI of the abdomen
• Endoscopic ultrasound
• ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)
• CBC (Complete Blood Count)
• Liver function tests
• Serum bilirubin

Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer:

As pancreatic cancer is detected only in the advanced stages, very few cases of the pancreatic tumors can be removed by surgery.

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The standard surgical procedure to remove pancreatic tumors is known as “pancreaticoduodenectomy”, which is also known as “Whipple procedure”.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be employed in the patients with tumors that cannot be removed surgically even though they have not spread outside the pancreas.

When the tumors get metastasized to other organs like liver, chemotherapy alone is employed. The main chemotherapeutic drug used in the treatment of the pancreatic cancer is ‘gemcitabine’ that helps around 25% of the patients.

The persons facing blockage in the biliary tubes that transport bile should be relieved of this obstruction by the application of the surgery or by placing biliary stent during ERCP.

The important thing in the treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer is to manage the pain and other symptoms. Palliative care tams and hospice can be employed to manage pain and other symptoms. These provide psychological support for patients and their families during the illness.

Prevention of the Pancreatic Cancer:

Smoking cessation

Smoking cessation (Photo credits:

Pancreatic cancer can be prevented by

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat more amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Regular exercise
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