Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is a small organ responsible for making insulin in the body and breaking down proteins and fats. It is located behind the stomach. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1.5 percent of adults in the United States develop pancreatic cancer. While relatively rare, it is particularly lethal. In fact, just 6 percent of patients survive longer than five years.

Types of pancreatic tumors

Different types of pancreatic tumors exist. Exocrine tumors are the most common and represent over 95 percent of pancreatic cancers. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, these types of tumors originate in the exocrine cells of the pancreas. In roughly 90 percent of cases, tumors begin in the cells that line the pancreatic duct. Endocrine tumors represent about 5 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. In most cases, these tumors are benign.  

Cause and symptoms for Pancreatic Cancer

The causes of pancreatic cancer remain unclear at this point. But according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), certain risk factors seem to increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Most pancreatic cancer cases occur in patients over age 45. In fact, 70 percent of patients are at least 65. Men are also 30 times more likely to develop the disease than women. Smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, liver cirrhosis, and heavy alcohol use have also been linked to pancreatic cancer. People with a family history of the disease may be at greater risk, as well. In some cases, inherited gene mutations can cause the condition. Unfortunately, symptoms of pancreatic cancer don’t often show until the disease has already dangerously progressed. According to the ACS, symptoms may include jaundice, back and/or abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, digestive issues, enlarged gallbladder and blood clots. In terms of treatment, surgery may be an option for some. Curative surgery is a procedure to treat the cancer itself. Palliative surgery aims to improve symptoms or correct a specific cancer-related problem. Other treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, and eliminating tumors through ablation.

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