Pancreatic cancer is considered deadly due to its low survival rate. Cancer of the pancreas rarely shows any symptoms at its early stages when it is treatable. There are no specific tools for screening it. Often, when a patient undergoes surgery, 30% of the pancreatic cancer goes undetected, leaving only a small subset to be removed. It can recur five years after surgery.
The risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include smoking, consumption of alcohol, type 2 diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity. Individuals aged over 50 years are at a higher risk. Tumors are common in smokers than nonsmokers. Only 5% of patients develop pancreatic cancer because of the genetic factor. A poor diet full of red and processed meat and obesity are other factors that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer because the pancreas produces more insulin.
The pancreas has three main parts, the head which produces digestive juices, the neck and body, and then the tail which produces insulin. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer begin to show:
- When the tumor is in the head of the pancreas, which affects the exocrine function and the patient shows symptoms of jaundice. About 95% of malignant tumors of the pancreas are adenocarcinomas and occur in the head where there is the first segment of the small intestine.
- They might also show the onset of diabetes if the tumor is placed in the tail of the pancreas.
- The jaundice is accompanied by body itchiness which results from bile salt crystals deposit under the skin.
- Because the tumor in the head of the pancreas obstructs the flow of the stomach contents into the small intestine, the patient may experience vomiting.
If pancreatic cancer is detected and the patient is referred for curative surgery, they undergo a procedure called Whipple, which removes the head of the pancreas, the first part of the duodenum, the gallbladder, and the bile duct. Surgery is done when the cancer is confined to the head of the pancreas. Other treatment procedures include total pancreatectomy, distal pancreatectomy, chemo, and radiation therapy for advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.