What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Cancer of the pancreas is a serious malignancy that is difficult to treat. The most common, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, starts in the part of the pancreas that produces digestive enzymes. Less commonly, a neuroendocrine tumor can arise from the hormone-producing part of the pancreas.
What Causes of Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is fundamentally a disease caused by damage to the DNA. This damage can be inherited, it can be the result of personal behavior and exposure to carcinogens, or it can be the result of a chance mutation. The exact causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, but important risk factors include cigarette smoking, age, race, gender, chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, and diet.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
The first symptom of pancreatic cancer is often being a dull pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate into the back. At times, skin jaundice occurs when the bile duct, which carries yellow bile from the liver and through the pancreas, is blocked. As cancer grows, symptoms may include pain in the upper abdomen or upper back, jaundice, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, and weight loss.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosed?
In the early stages, pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to detect because there are no symptoms. If a mass is seen on a CT or MRI exam, the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is confirmed by an ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde CholangioPancreatography) or an EUS (Endoscopic UltraSound) with percutaneous needle biopsy of the mass tissue.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Treated?
Surgery is the only effective form of treatment for pancreatic cancer. If pancreatic cancer seems very likely, and the tumor appears removable by surgery, doctors may recommend surgery without a biopsy.