What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is the organ of the digestive and endocrine systems. It has a triangular (like a pear) shape and is located behind the stomach. It is about 15 cm (6 in) long. Anatomically, the pancreas is divided into the head of the pancreas, the neck, the body, and the tail of the pancreas. The head is surrounded by the duodenum in its concavity. The head surrounds two large blood vessels.
What does the pancreas do?
The pancreas produces insulin and glucagon hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. The pancreas also produces and secretes pancreatic juice into the duodenum to digest food.
What is cancer?
Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells begin to uncontrollably divide and grow, forming a malignant tumor and destroying healthy tissues.
What is the difference between a benign and malignant tumor?
A benign tumor is not cancer and, as a rule, is not life-threatening. In most cases, it can be removed and will not form again. Cells of benign tumors do not spread to other tissues around them or other parts of the body.
Malignant tumors are cancer. Such tumors germinate in the tissues around them and spread to other parts of the body, i.e., metastasize. Malignant tumors are life-threatening.
How does cancer spread?
Cancer cells enter the bloodstream and/or lymph flow, spreading throughout the body. They can form new (secondary) tumors in other organs.
Where does pancreatic cancer usually start?
Most pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas.
What is islet cell tumor?
Cancer of islet cells or cancer of the islets of Langerhans is a type of pancreatic cancer that begins in cells that produce insulin and other hormones.
The most common type of pancreatic cancer is called ductal adenocarcinoma. Such adenocarcinoma begins in the exocrine part of the gland.
Much less common are pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. They can develop in the endocrine component. These tumors are called islet cell, pancreatic islet cell, pancreatic endocrine tumors, islet of Langerhans tumors.
What is metastatic pancreatic cancer? Does it cause liver cancer?
When the formation extends from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells as the primary tumor. For example, if a pancreatic tumor spreads to the liver, cancer cells in the liver are the cells of the pancreas. The disease is called metastatic pancreatic cancer, and not liver cancer.
How are liver cancer and pancreatic cancer associated?
A pancreatic tumor is not associated with liver cancer, but in the later stages of metastasis, liver is most often affected by it.
Metastatic pancreatic cancer in the liver is a condition in which the cells from the primary tumor spread through the blood to the liver. Metastatic cancer has the same name and the same type of cancer cells as primary cancer.
What is common in liver cancer and pancreatic cancer?
Liver cancer and pancreatic cancer are entirely different tumors with different prognosis and approaches to treatment.
Pancreatic cancer and primary liver cancer (intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma or cholangiocellular carcinoma) share the following symptoms:
- weight loss;
- lack of appetite.
Also, hepatocellular carcinoma of the liver is often characterized by cirrhosis, hepatitis B and/or C.
What causes pancreatic cancer?
The exact causes of abnormal cell growth in the pancreas are unknown, although studies have established that people are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer under the influence of risk factors.
I suspect that I am at risk of having pancreatic cancer. What should I do?
People who think they are at risk of pancreatic cancer should discuss this matter with their doctor. The specialist will suggest ways to reduce the risk and plan regular examinations.
What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
At the initial stages, pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect, because it does not cause symptoms. As the tumor grows the following symptoms appear:
- pain in the upper abdomen or upper back;
- loss of appetite;
- sharp weight loss.
These symptoms can also be caused by infection or other health problems. Only a doctor can establish the diagnosis.
How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect. Various methods can be used to establish a diagnosis. These methods include laboratory tests, CT, endoscopic ultrasound and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
What does the stage of pancreatic cancer mean?
When pancreatic cancer is confirmed, the physician must know the stage (degree) to plan the best treatment possible. To find out the stage of pancreatic cancer, you need to know exactly the size of the tumor in the gland, whether cancer has spread through the body if so, to which parts of the body. The results of various diagnostic tests will show how much the disease has progressed. The choice of treatment methods depends solely on the stage.
What questions should I ask the doctor?
- What is the stage of cancer?
- Does this stage mean that cancer has spread beyond the pancreas?
- How long can I live with pancreatic cancer?
- What treatment methods do you suggest and why?
What are the approaches to pancreatic cancer treatment?
People with pancreatic tumor can have several treatment options. Depending on the type and stage, cancer can be treated with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Many patients are treated with combined therapy.