Pancreatic Cancer – Penn State Cancer Institute

The pancreas is a long thin organ in the
back of the abdomen which is responsible for two major functions. The pancreas
produces insulin and other hormones which help you with your sugar control
and it produces enzymes which go into the GI tract and help us digest fatty
foods. The most common type of pancreatic cancer occurs when the gland cells, the
ones that produce the enzymes go bad and turn into a tumor or a mass and this is
called pancreatic cancer or pancreatic gland cancer. Pancreatic cancer is
extremely hard to detect. Although, it’s not even in the top ten in terms of the
most common cancers in this country, it’s the third leading cancer killer and
that’s because most of the time when we find it, it’s already spread and it’s
very hard to treat the reason pancreatic cancer is so hard to detect is because
the pancreas is in the back of the abdomen and most of the symptoms you
would get from pancreatic cancer occur late and can be mistaken for a lot of
more common ailments. Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include changes in the
GI tract such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Another can be pain which
starts in the middle of the abdomen and goes to the back and another is a
yellowish coloring of the skin or eyes called jaundice. Weight loss and other
miscellaneous problems. The most common risk factors for pancreatic cancer
include age, smoking and obesity and obviously, smoking and obesity can be
modified and so it’s important to stress a healthy lifestyle and good diet. There are some genetic forms of pancreatic cancer and so if you do
have a family history not just a pancreatic cancer but of other GI
cancers or breast cancer it’s important to think about genetic testing which can
help identify that risk. I think it’s important to remember that although
pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late and has poor prognosis overall,
there are always treatment options that we can offer any patient both to try to
decrease the cancer burden and prolong survival but also in terms of palliation
of symptoms and helping patients get through the problems they’re having and
improve their quality of life.

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