Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease that is often difficult to diagnose and treat. The pancreas is a small organ located in the abdomen, and pancreatic cancer can develop in any of its tissues.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment in Tucson, AZ
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer begins in the pancreas, an organ located in the abdomen behind the lower stomach. This organ releases enzymes to aid digestion and produces hormones to help regulate blood sugar levels.
The pancreas can develop several types of growth, including cancerous and noncancerous tumors. However, the most common type of cancer that forms in the pancreas begins in the cells lining ducts carrying digestive enzymes out of the pancreatic gland (pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma).
Pancreatic cancer is rarely discovered in its early stages when it’s most treatable. This is due to the fact that it frequently does not produce symptoms until after it has spread to other tissues.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
The two main types of tumors growing in the pancreas are exocrine and neuroendocrine. Out of all pancreatic tumors, approximately 93% are exocrine types. The most frequent kind is called adenocarcinoma, and it usually starts in the ducts of the pancreas, hence its name – ductal adenocarcinoma.
About 80% of all pancreatic cancers are ductal adenocarcinomas. The other 20% are called pancreatoblastoma and account for less than 1% of all pancreatic cancers. A rare type of cancer that begins in the islets of Langerhans—the cells that produce hormones such as insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin. These tumors usually don’t spread beyond your pancreas at first but can eventually spread to other organs such as your liver and lungs.
What are the symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to detect in its early stages because the symptoms are often vague and non-specific. The most common symptoms include weight loss, abdominal pain, dark urine, itchy skin, and nausea.
More advanced cases can cause jaundice, a condition in which your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. This happens when there is a build-up of bilirubin, a yellow pigment that is produced when your liver breaks down red blood cells. When pancreatic cancer blocks the bile ducts, bilirubin
How is Pancreatic diagnosed?
A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer typically involves one or more tests, the most popular being an abdominal CT scan. This test uses X-rays to produce a three-dimensional image of your insides. In some cases, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or endoscopic ultrasound may be employed for a better look at the pancreas.
A biopsy is the only way to diagnose pancreatic cancer definitively. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed from the pancreas and examined under a microscope.
There are two main types of biopsies:
- Needle biopsy: A needle is inserted into the pancreas to remove a small sample of tissue. The needle can be guided by a CT scan or ultrasound imaging.
- Endoscopic biopsy: A long, thin tube called an endoscope is inserted down your throat and into your stomach and intestines. The endoscope has a small camera at the end, which allows the doctor to see inside your pancreas. Biopsy instruments can be passed through the endoscope to remove a small sample of tissue.
After your doctor has diagnosed you with cancer, they will order additional tests in order to determine how far along the cancer is. This can be done through imaging tests such as CT, MRI, or PET scans. A PET (positron emission tomography) scan is an imaging test that uses radioactive glucose to observe areas of high cell activity, typically indicating the presence of cancer cells.
There are five stages of pancreatic cancer
- Stage 0: Pancreatic cancer is only present in the uppermost layers of cells within the pancreatic ducts. It cannot be seen on imaging tests or with the naked eye.
- Stage I: Minimal or no distribution. Pancreatic cancer has a local growth pattern if it progresses to the pancreas in stage IA, but less than 2 centimeters across (stage IA) or more than 2 but not greater than 4 centimeters (stage IB).
- Stage II: Local spread is a lesser form of the disease. Pancreatic cancer has a diameter of 4 centimeters or less, and it may be limited to the pancreas or have local spread, in which case cancer has grown outside of the pancreas or has spread to nearby lymph nodes. It hasn’t metastasized elsewhere.
- Stage III: The tumor may have expanded to nearby major blood vessels or nerves but has not metastasized to distant sites.
- Stage IV: The cancer has metastasized to other organs, such as the liver, peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), lungs, or bones. It can be any size and might or might not have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
What are the treatments for pancreatic cancer?
The most common treatment for pancreatic cancer is surgery. The type of surgery depends on how early the cancer is detected and where it is located within the pancreas.
In some cases, a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopic surgery can be performed. This type of surgery uses small incisions and a tiny video camera to remove cancer.
If the cancer is detected at an early stage, a whipple procedure can be performed. This type of surgery removes the head of the pancreas, the bile duct, and part of the small intestine.
If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be recommended. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells, while radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that targets specific mutations within cancer cells. This type of therapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Palliative care is a type of care that is focused on relieving the symptoms of cancer and improving quality of life. Palliative care can be used alongside other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
What are the side effects of pancreatic cancer treatment?
Pancreatic cancer treatments can cause a range of side effects. But communicating with your healthcare team and receiving supportive (palliative) care can help lessen their impact.
- Stool changes – Treatments for ailments can cause different side effects in the digestive tract, like constipation or diarrhea.
- Fatigue – Cancer-related fatigue is common among people with pancreatic cancer. Fatigue varies from person to person but can range from mild exhaustion to severe weakness and lack of energy.
- Nausea and Vomiting –: Some patients experience nausea and vomiting after certain treatments, like chemotherapy. Sometimes these side effects happen right after treatment; other times, they don’t occur until some days later.
- Neuropathy –Neuropathy is a condition that causes numbness, tingling or burning in the hands or feet, numbness around the mouth, and loss of sensation to touch. Certain chemotherapy medicines—which are given to treat some types of cancer—can damage peripheral nerves, leading to neuropathy in patients with those diseases.
- Mouth Sores –: A few treatments can result in mouth sores, which usually show up a couple of days after the treatment. These sores appear as burns on people’s lips, gums, tongue, and roof or floor of their mouth.
- Taste and Appetite changes –Surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy can sometimes cause patients to lose their appetite or change the way foods taste. This weight loss and decreased food intake can make it difficult for patients to tolerate treatment better.
- Pain-Pain may result from therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Some of the adverse effects mentioned here, on the other hand, can produce similar discomfort.
- Skin and Nail changes –Treatment may also cause hand-foot syndrome, which causes redness, tenderness, dryness, and peeling of the palms and soles. In addition, nail changes such as inflammation around the nail area may occur during treatment.
Pancreatic cancer therapies might have unpleasant side effects, but your healthcare team can help you manage them. Make sure to discuss any negative effects or specialized treatment with your healthcare provider so they can assist you in feeling better.
What is the role of radiation therapy in pancreatic cancer?
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used to shrink tumors, relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy.
There are two types of radiation therapy: external beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy. External beam radiation therapy uses a machine outside of the body to deliver the radiation, while internal radiation therapy places radioactive material directly into or near the tumor.
Radiation therapy can cause side effects, such as fatigue, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, skin changes, and neuropathy. Radiation therapy is a valuable tool in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. It can be used to shrink tumors, relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Talk to your healthcare team about whether radiation therapy is right for you.
What is the prognosis of someone with pancreatic cancer?
The long-term outlook for pancreatic cancer patients is generally determined by the size and type of the tumor, as well as how metastasized it is at the time of diagnosis. If caught early enough, the prognosis improves significantly. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer typically has no symptoms until it is advanced and disseminated. As a result, the majority of instances (up to 80%) are found late in the game when they are more difficult to treat.
The survival rate for pancreatic cancer is very low in comparison to other cancers, at a measly 5 to 10 percent. The main reason for this is that most people are diagnosed when the disease has metastasized (stage IV), and it’s too late by then. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer in Stage IV is 1%. The typical patient who is diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer will live approximately a year after being diagnosed. Because their tumors can usually be resected (surgically removed), patients whose tumors are discovered early have a better chance of surviving longer, on average.
Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer
There are several risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer, many of which are out of our control. Some of the most common include:
- Age: The majority of pancreatic cancer patients are elderly people (more than 60 years old).
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking is associated with a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
- Family history: If pancreatic cancer runs in your family, you may be at a higher risk.
- Chronic pancreatitis: This is a condition that results in inflammation of the pancreas.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Diabetes: Those with diabetes have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Race: Pancreatic cancer is more common among African Americans.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: Certain chemicals, such as petroleum products and dry-cleaning solvents, have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
How can you reduce your risk of getting pancreatic cancer?
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer, including:
- Quit smoking: Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of pancreatic cancer. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and avoiding processed meats, sugary drinks and abdominal fat can help reduce your risk.
- Exercise: Getting regular exercise can also help reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk.
- Limit your alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. If you drink, do so in moderation.
- Avoid exposure to certain chemicals: Certain chemicals, such as petroleum products and dry-cleaning solvents, have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Try to avoid exposure to these chemicals.
- Get screened: If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer or other risk factors, you may be eligible for\ screening tests, such as abdominal MRI or endoscopic ultrasound. These tests can help find pancreatic cancer early when it is most treatable.
We are here to help you
Knowing your risk factors can help you take action to prevent the disease from occurring. If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it is important that they get the best treatment available. We offer a range of treatments for pancreatic cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Our team is here to help you through every step of the process.
We are here to help you through this difficult time.