Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer caused by a tumor that grows in your pancreas. This tumor growth is triggered by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of pancreatic cells.
The pancreas is a large gland within the digestive system. The pancreas gland is approximately 15 cm long and functions to produce digestive enzymes, hormones, insulin, and maintain stable sugar levels in the body.
Generally, pancreatic cancer occurs in patients aged 75 years and above. Pancreatic cancer is rarely found in people under the age of 40.
Causes of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer occurs when the DNA in pancreatic cells is damaged. Single cancer cells grow and divide rapidly and form a tumor. These tumors will spread through the blood and lymph systems in the body.
To date, no studies have been able to prove the cause of DNA damage in pancreatic cells.
In some cases, pancreatic cancer is also caused by genetic factors. Certain genes have a greater potential for pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreatic gland that may lead to pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer generally affects people with risk factors such as:
- Actively smoking
- Obesity or overweight.
- Age 50-80 years, especially over 75 years.
- Have a certain medical history, such as diabetes or gastric ulcers.
When to See a Doctor for Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer symptoms should be consulted with a gastroenterologist. The examination will begin with a medical interview to identify the patient’s medical history.
Subsequently, the doctor will continue with a physical test by examining the lump in the stomach to determine if the liver has increased in size. In addition, the doctor will also confirm if the patient’s skin and eyes have turned yellow.
If the doctor suspects the possibility of pancreatic cancer, there will be a series of imaging tests that the patient has to undergo:
- PET Scan, a test to find out what is going on with the tissues in the body organs.
- Ultrasound scan, a test using sound waves.
- MRI, a test with a magnetic field to show the structure of organs in the body.
- CT scan, a test using X-ray technology and a camera to see the condition in the patient’s body.
If the imaging tests do not demonstrate definitive results, the doctor may advise the patient to undergo further tests:
- Endoscopic ultrasound, an endoscopic technique that can take pictures directly of the pancreas area.
- Laparoscopy, a surgery that allows doctors to see the inside of the body using a laparoscope, which is a thin tube-shaped instrument.
- Biopsy or sampling of cells that are suspected of being a tumor, and then examined using a microscope
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Tumors in the pancreas gland do not show symptoms in the initial stage, making it difficult to diagnose pancreatic cancer. Symptoms that generally occur early in people with pancreatic cancer are:
- Yellow skin and eyes.
- Drastic weight loss.
- Dark and yellow-ish urine, pale stools, and itchy skin.
- Pain in the back or stomach area. This pain will appear and disappear on its own and become worse when you lie down after eating.
As the cancer progresses in stage, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Blood clots.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Fever and chills.
Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer treatment depends on the stage of cancer. In addition, the patient’s age and general health condition are also taken into consideration.
If the cancer has not spread, treatment can be done by surgery to remove the cancer. However, if the cancer has spread and surgery is not possible, doctors will focus on preventing the tumor from further spreading and causing more damage.
The three common treatments for pancreatic cancer are:
Surgery is the only way to completely cure pancreatic cancer. However, this is only possible in the early stages of cancer, before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The types of surgery that are commonly performed to treat pancreatic cancer are:
- Whipple surgery, a surgery to remove the head of the pancreas. The recovery period is shorter. However, patients who have had whipple surgery will usually need certain enzyme medicines to help digest food.
- Total pancreatectomy surgery, a surgery to remove the entire pancreas and spleen, bile ducts, small intestine, lymph nodes, and gallbladder. Similar to whipple surgery, patients who have had this type of surgery will also need enzyme medications in order to digest food properly.
- Distal pancreatectomy surgery, a surgery that removes part of the body and tail of the pancreas, but leaves the head of the pancreas
Surgery is also not always recommended by doctors. Apart from complications that may arise, pancreatic cancer can also spread rapidly. Within the timeline of diagnosis to surgery, the cancer may have spread and surgery may become difficult to perform.
Treatment Cost for Pancreatic Cancer
The cost for Pancreatic Cancer treatment varies, depending on the treatment method chosen.
For more information regarding the estimated costs of Pancreatic Cancer treatment, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Pancreatic Cancer
The cause of the DNA damage in cells causing pancreatic cancer is still unknown. Therefore, no specific preventive measures can be taken.
The most basic preventive measure that can be undertaken is by maintaining your health through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
In addition, people with certain risk factors also need to pay attention to their health conditions to avoid symptoms of pancreatic cancer. These risk factors include:
- Active smokers.
- Being overweight/obese
- Have a history of diabetes.
- Have a family member with pancreatic cancer.
- Aged 50-80 years, especially over 75 years.
- Work in a metal working or dry cleaning environment, as there is potential for high chemical exposure
Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer
After surgery, patients must consume the enzyme drugs prescribed by their doctor. This will help your body digest food properly.