Pancreatic cancer – Causes, risk factors, symptoms, and management Health

Pancreatic cancer – Causes, risk factors, symptoms, and management

The pancreas plays a crucial role in converting food into energy for the body. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels. When cancer affects the healthy cells of this organ triggered by a mutation, it leads to the development of tumors. Pancreatic cancer can be managed to some extent to improve quality of life but only for a limited number of patients. Here is an overview of the causes, risk factors, signs, and available pancreatic cancer treatments.

Causes and risk factors
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not yet known. However, the condition may be triggered or worsened by the following factors:

Advancing age
Pancreatic cancer is a high-risk condition that gets worse with old age, with the condition being diagnosed among adults between ages 65 and 74. The risk is also higher among men.

Family history
A family history of known diseases and complications linked to cancer also increases the risk of its incidence. Genetic mutations passed down triggering conditions like hereditary breast cancer, ovarian cancer, familial pancreatitis, and Lynch syndrome can all lead to pancreatic cancer.

Cystic fibrosis and pancreatic cysts are two related high-risk factors that increase the chances of developing cancer in the pancreas. Chronic inflammation in the pancreas caused by chronic pancreatitis triggers further complications in the organ.

Other risk factors
Early type 2 diabetes, leading a sedentary lifestyle, excess body mass index, and risky lifestyle choices that increase exposure to carcinogens are all viable risk factors linked to cancer of the pancreas. However, these are risk factors that can be controlled and changed to lower the incidence of cancer.

Signs and symptoms
Pancreatic cancer can be diagnosed on the basis of the following flare-ups that indicate organ damage.

Early diabetes
The pancreas produces the insulin necessary for the body to keep blood glucose levels in check. Any damage to this organ due to the spread of cancer triggers a spike in blood sugar showing early diabetes.

Cancer is an aggressive condition that destroys healthy cells. As a result, one experiences fatigue and weakness despite not doing any physical activity. Often, fatigue combined with unexplained changes in body mass index indicates pancreatic cancer.

Digestive problems
Pancreas are located in the digestive tract, so spreading cancer can affect other nearby organs. As a result, one might experience sudden digestive discomforts causing nausea, vomiting, bloating, swelling, indigestion, and stomach pain. Loss of appetite is one of the first signs of digestive troubles.

Pain in the abdomen and back
Tumors that grow around the pancreas can press against the spine resulting in sharp intermittent bouts of pain. The pain radiates between the upper abdomen and lower back, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Back pain that comes with stomach pain should be checked to rule out other complications.

Jaundice like symptoms
Yellowing of the eyes, yellow skin, dark urine output, pale greasy stools, and itchy skin are common discomforts of developing jaundice. These signs should not be ignored since jaundice in the pancreas is painless and hard to detect till the symptoms flare up.

Diagnosis and treatment
Early diagnosis will enable doctors to plan treatment that helps improve the quality of life living with pancreatic cancer.

Diagnostic tests
A combination of imaging tests, including CT scans, PET scans, and MRIs, will be suggested to find the cancer. Further, endoscopic ultrasound will be done to confirm the images internally. Doctors will even conduct complete blood tests and extract a sample using biopsy to confirm the presence of cancer cells in the organ tissue.

Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy
A combination of these therapies will be first suggested to kill the cancer cells and neutralize the spread. These prescription treatments are useful for mild to moderate cancers that haven’t metastasized.

Surgical procedures
Based on the location of the cancer, surgical oncologists may recommend the removal of infected tissue. A pancreaticoduodenectomy is performed for tumors found in the head of the pancreas. A distal pancreatectomy is used to remove cancer in the body and tail of the pancreas. In severe cases, a total pancreatectomy may be necessary, which involves the removal of the entire organ.