If you notice such symptoms as:
- abrupt weight loss;
- loss of appetite;
- nausea and vomiting.
you should seek medical advice!
What is the pancreas and how is it arranged?
The pancreas is the organ of the digestive system, which performs the following functions:
- exocrine (digestive)
The pancreas produces all the necessary enzymes (trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, lipase) to digest fats, proteins, carbohydrates.
The pancreas produces insulin and glucagon hormones. Insulin regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism and maintains the optimal level of sugar in the blood by lowering it.
Glucagon is opposite to insulin by action: it increases the concentration of sugar in the blood.
The pancreas is located in the retroperitoneal space behind the stomach and consists of three main parts - the head, body, and tail.
The head of the pancreas is the biggest part of the organ. The common bile duct enters this area of the pancreas. The bile, produced in the liver, enters the duodenum here. The body of the pancreas has the shape of a triangle and ends with a tail that resembles a pear.
According to experts, in 75% of cases the tumor affects the gland's head; in 15-20 - the body. Malignant cells are rarely found in the tail - only in 5-10% of cases.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is a malignant tumor that develops from the pancreatic endocrine and exocrine cells. It ranks 4th among the world's cancer deaths (after lung cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer in men and lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer in women).
The incidence rate of pancreatic cancer in men and women is not significantly different.
Occurrence of pancreatic cancer
Cancer is a disease of cells that started to multiply uncontrollably. Normal cells grow and divide to form new cells when the body needs it. When healthy cells become old or damaged, they die. This process is called apoptosis.
There are specific genes that "instruct" cells what to do and control them in the process of formation of new cells and death of old ones. Changes in genes due to mutations or external influences lead to the degeneration of healthy cells into tumor cells, which do not perish but continuously divide, forming a malignant (primary) tumor.
Some gene mutations appear randomly, others arise under the influence of negative environmental factors, while others can be hereditary.
Unlike normal, malignant cells can spread to other organs, forming a secondary tumor (metastasis) in them.
Pancreatic cancer is treated depending on the stage of the disease, type, and number of organs it metastasized into and the general health condition.
What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Early signs of pancreatic cancer are usually absent, so it is difficult to recognize the disease in time. Often, patients notice common symptoms that are not associated with pancreatic disease:
- change in stool;
- lack of appetite.
But there are more specific signs that can tell it might be pancreatic cancer:
- yellowing of the eyes and skin, accompanied by itching;
- darkening of the urine and discoloration of the stool;
- a sharp decrease in weight (for example, 10-15 kg in 3-6 months);
- increased levels of bilirubin and hepatic enzymes in the blood;
- increased blood glucose levels;
- sudden development of type 2 diabetes in patients after 50 years;
- nausea and vomiting.
Pain due to pancreatic cancer usually occurs at later stages as the tumor grows larger.
What kind of doctor should I consult for pancreatic cancer?
Primary examination in cases of complaints to the above-mentioned symptoms is performed by the therapist, who after clinical examination directs the patient to the endocrinologist and gastroenterologist. If the diagnosis "pancreatic cancer" is confirmed, the oncologist directly deals with the treatment.
Causes of pancreatic cancer
What causes pancreatic cancer, as well as other cancers, is not known.
However, some risk factors increase the likelihood of developing cancer over time.
The presence of risk factors is not a guarantee for the development of a tumor. It means that a person who is under the influence of many factors may not get sick Afterall and vice versa, a person can develop pancreatic cancer without having a single risk factor.
The development of pancreatic cancer affects:
- genetic predisposition
About 10% of malignant tumors are associated with a genetic predisposition. If members of the family (close relatives) have a pancreatic tumor, then the risk of developing a similar disease increase.
The genetic basis of predisposition to cancer is not thoroughly researched. It was found that the risk of developing the disease is higher in patients with Peutz–Jeghers syndrome (the development of benign hamartomatous polyps in the gastrointestinal tract) and acute or chronic fibrous—degenerative pancreatitis. Also, the risk of developing a tumor is increased in patients with Lynch syndrome (genetic predisposition to colon cancer).
Smoking doubles the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
- alcohol consumption
The American Cancer Society has established that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to chronic pancreatitis and increase the risk of developing a tumor in the pancreas.
- increased weight (obesity) and low physical activity
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the American Institute for Research on Cancer (AICR) found that an increase in the body mass index by 5 units increases the chance of developing the disease by 10%. For every 10 cm of waist the risk increases by 11%.
- unbalanced diet
Reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables and large amounts of red meat and dairy products along with consumption of processed meat proved to increase the risk of cancer.
- professional contact with chemicals
The constant exposure to chemicals, used in the chemical and metallurgical industries, increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- lack of vitamin D
The lack of vitamin D significantly increases the risk of cancer of the pancreas and developing of other tumors.
- cirrhosis of the liver
Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver tissue caused by viral hepatitis and alcohol. People with cirrhosis have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is common in people with type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes most often develops in adulthood and is associated with being overweight.
- precancerous diseases of the pancreas
One of the precancerous diseases of the pancreas is chronic pancreatitis.
Chronic pancreatitis is a chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Sometimes it develops because of a hereditary gene mutation. People with this inherited pancreatitis throughout life are prone to the formation of a malignant pancreatic tumor.
Mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs) and Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) are cystic tumors that can be small in size and develop asymptomatically. Usually, they are found accidentally during an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan.
IPMN can affect the pancreatic bile duct and has the highest malignant potential, with the risk of malignancy up to 62%.
The risk of malignancy of MCNs is less than 15%. International research groups recommend resection in all cases when the patient has no contraindications to the surgery.
Prevention of pancreatic cancer
How to avoid pancreatic cancer? Specialists do not give a definite answer. It is established that the only prevention method is to avoid risk factors. The American Cancer Society recommends to maintain a balanced diet, to abandon bad habits and engage in sports activities.
Patients with one or more risk factors, including the aforementioned genetic syndromes, should lead a healthy lifestyle and undergo annual screening.