Pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the pancreas.
The pancreas is located behind the abdomen and cancer is often difficult to detect because the organ has no feeling so symptoms can go unnoticed.
The exact reason that cells in the pancreas turn cancerous is difficult to determine although the following groups may be at higher risk:
- Those who are overweight or obese.
- Alcoholics and heavy drinkers.
- Those with a poor diet.
- Those with a genetic disposition to cancer.
If the pancreas is the primary site for cancer, symptoms may not be noticed until the cancer develops into the later stages.
Potential symptoms include jaundice, nausea and vomiting, extreme weight loss, blood in stools and severe abdominal pain.
Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed from an MRI or CT scan, blood tests, a biopsy taken directly from the pancreas and endoscopic ultrasound. The earlier pancreatic cancer is detected, the better the chances of a full recovery.
Treatment options will depend on the stage of cancer and whether it's spread anywhere else in the body.
The Whipple procedure is the most effective and preferred surgical option. Otherwise known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy, the head of the pancreas can be removed depending on the location of the tumour.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can also be used as an addition to surgery or as standalone treatments. This involves chemicals and high-intensity gamma rays respectively being administered into the body to directly kill cancerous cells.
The prognosis from pancreatic cancer tends not to be as favourable as other cancers mostly because symptoms can remain unidentified for so long. Always seek medical assistance to diagnose any unidentified symptoms because the earlier pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, the more positive the outcomes for the patient.