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Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is an organ in the upper abdomen located beneath the stomach and adjacent to the first portion of the small intestine, called the duodenum. The pancreas is composed of glands that are responsible for a wide variety of tasks.

The glandular functions of the pancreas can be divided into the following 2 categories:
  • Exocrine: - The exocrine glands secrete enzymes into ducts that eventually empty into the duodenum. These enzymes then help in the digestion of food as it moves through the intestines.
  • Endocrine: - The endocrine glands secrete hormones, including insulin, into the bloodstream. Insulin is carried by the blood throughout the rest of the body to assist in the process of using sugar as an energy source. Insulin also controls the levels of sugar in the blood.

The pancreas can be divided into the following 4 anatomical sections: -
  • Head - The rightmost portion that lies adjacent to the duodenum
  • Uncinate process - An extension of the head of the pancreas
  • Body - The middle portion of the pancreas
  • Tail - The leftmost portion of the pancreas that lies adjacent to the spleen

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

The main symptoms of pancreatic cancer include the following: -
  • Pain in the abdomen, the back, or both
  • Weight loss, often associated with the following: -
    • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
    • Bloating
    • Diarrhea or fatty bowel movements that float in water (steatorrhea)
    • Rarely may present with new diabetes in a person with weight loss and nausea

Pancreatic Cancer Causes

The main recognized risk factors for pancreatic cancer include the following:-
  • Smoking
  • Advanced age
  • Male sex - The male-to-female ratio of pancreatic cancer is 1.3:1.
  • Chronic pancreatitis - Inflammation of the pancreas, usually from excessive alcohol intake or gallstones
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer

How is cancer of the pancreas treated?

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on a number of factors. Among these are the type, size, and extent of the tumor as well as the patient's age and general health. A treatment plan is tailored to fit each patient's needs.

The extent of cancer can be divided into the following 3 categories: -
  • Localized: - The cancer is completely confined within the pancreas.
  • Locally advanced: - The cancer has extended from the pancreas to involve nearby blood vessels or organs.
  • Metastatic: - The cancer has spread outside the pancreas to other parts of the body.

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