PANCREUS CANCER - MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE SOLICITORS

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Pancreatic cancer is uncommon especially in those below 50 years of age. The most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen, weight loss and jaundice which may be associated with indigestion, sickness, bloating after meals and tiredness. Because of the vaguer nature of these symptoms, cancer of the pancreas may go undiagnosed especially as the symptoms may mimic other less serious medical conditions. Failure by a doctor to refer a patent to a cancer specialist for further testing due to misdiagnosis is medical negligence. Treatment of pancreatic cancer is by surgery if the tumour is small and by chemotherapy.

Our Pancreus Cancer medical negligence lawyers have solicitors offices situated in Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas can be difficult and starts with a local doctor who should refer the patient to a hospital for specialist tests and subsequent treatment. The most important symptom is jaundice which may be evident from skin colour and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Thereafter urine and blood tests should be sufficient to ensure referral where examination will involve further blood tests and x-rays and possibly, CT computerised tomography scans, ultrasound, MRI magnetic resonance imaging scans, ERCP endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography, EUS endoscopic ultrasound, biopsy and laparoscopy. All of these tests require human interpretation and there is therefore opportunity for misdiagnosis and medical negligence.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a cancer of the pancreas, which is an endocrine and exocrine gland in the upper stomach area. It is a long, tubular gland with a head near the duodenum and a tail associated with the area of the stomach. Each year about 4,000 people in Australia will have a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This means about one patient in 76 will have this terrible diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer will affect men and women equally and most patients will be greater than 45 years of age.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the top ten cancers. Because it is so deadly, unfortunately, it is the fourth deadliest cancer. About 4,000 individuals in Australia will die from the disease every year. This means that more than half of the people who have pancreatic cancer will not survive their diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer covers more than one type because there are different parts to the pancreas. As mentioned, there are exocrine and endocrine parts to the pancreas. The exocrine part makes the digestive juices and the endocrine part makes insulin and other hormones.

The types of the thyroid cancer are many although 95 percent of all cases of pancreatic cancer are due to what’s called “pancreatic adenocarcinoma”. This is an exocrine cancer. There are less common types of exocrine tumors, particularly adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, giant cell carcinoma, acinar cell carcinoma and small cell carcinoma of the pancreas. Because 95 percent of all of the pancreas is considered related to the exocrine system, of course this would also represent the vast majority of pancreatic cancer.

Cancer can show up in the endocrine part of the pancreas but they are seen less frequently than exocrine parts of the pancreas. The cancerous cells of the endocrine system are known as “pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell tumors”. The cancer types are specifically named for the hormone produced by the pancreatic cell from which the cell came. These include insulinomas, glucagonomas, somatostatinomas, gastrinomas, VIPomas (from vasoactive intestinal peptide cells) and non-secreting pancreatic islet cell cancers.

Pancreatic cancer begins when a glitch in the DNA of a pancreatic cell causes that cell to divide uncontrollably and spread within the pancreas. Exactly what causes this process to happen is completely unknown. The pancreatic cell cancer spreads relatively quickly and to other body areas when compared to other types of cancers. This is what contributes to the high mortality of the cancer.

Smoking has come to be a major risk factor in getting pancreatic cancer. Those who smoke have about twice the risk of getting pancreatic cancer when you compare them to non-smokers. Diabetes, even though it is related to the pancreas, has nothing to do with getting pancreatic cancer. Advancing age, race and having a history of pancreatic cancer are all risk factors for getting the disease.

The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult because there are no good blood screening tests and there are no lumps to feel. The doctor will do a complete history and physical examination. If there is a suspicion of pancreatic cancer due to unexplained weight loss or abdominal discomfort, the doctor might go ahead and do the following tests to check for pancreatic cancer:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan of the abdomen and chest
  • Endoscopic ultrasonography
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or ERCP

Tissue is biopsied to make a complete diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The treatment phase of the disease then commences. The following are choices for treatment:

  • Surgery. It is done to lessen symptoms or, in some cases, to attempt to cure the disease.
  • Chemotherapy. This is often done along with radiation to reduce symptoms and to make the growth of the cancer cells slower.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Palliative care. This involves doing what’s necessary by surgical or medical means to control symptoms in patients who are not expected to survive.

Pancreatic cancer is a dire condition to have. Metastases are common, even before the initial diagnosis is made. Most treatments of pancreatic cancer are palliative and some are designed to make a person live a few months or more longer. There are clinical trials ongoing to help prolong the lives of patients with this form of cancer.

Overview

Pancreatic cancer is a condition where a cell of the pancreas becomes abnormal and grows out of control. Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive form of cancer which quickly grows and metastasizes to other body areas. It is rare to catch a pancreus cancer in its earliest stages and the cure rate for pancreatic cancer is fairly low.

The pancreas is an oblong-shaped gland that has a head, a body and a tail. It is located near the duodenum in the back of the abdomen. It has two primary functions. It secretes digestive juices into the duodenum which allows for the digestion of food. It also has an endocrine function in which it secretes insulin in response to high blood sugar in the body. The cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin come from the Islets of Langerhans, situated throughout the pancreas.

The most likely type of pancreatic cancer you can get is known as ductal adenocarcinoma. This means that the cancer has originated in the ducts of the pancreas or the part of the pancreas that makes digestive juices. A more rare form of cancer begins in the islets of Langerhans. Such tumors are called islet cell cancers or neuroendocrine cancer of the pancreas. Some of the endocrine tumors secrete insulin and some do not. If you have a cancer of the islets of Langerhans that secretes insulin, you can suffer from severe low blood sugar that is difficult to treat. Such a tumor is called an insulinoma. A cancer that produces too much glucagon is called a glucagonoma and results in very high blood sugars that do not respond well to insulin. One type of pancreatic tumor produces a chemical known as vasoactive intestinal peptide. The symptoms of this tumour are severe, unrelenting diarrhoea and abdominal cramping.

Pancreus cancer it the fourth leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Both men and women get the disease equally. The reason for the high mortality rate is that there are few symptoms of pancreatic cancer until it becomes metastatic and goes to other body areas. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include loss of weight, malaise, fatigue, abdominal pain or abdominal bloating. Fevers can happen in some cases.

The statistics of pancreatic cancer, including pancreatic cancer deaths, are a weighted average among thousands of individuals. The actual pancreatic cell death rate varies from person to person and depends on overall health and when the cancer is first diagnosed. A few people actually survive having pancreatic cancer, especially if it is not metastatic and is removed entirely by surgery. The actual percentage of people who survive the first year after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is about 25 percent. The five year survival rate with pancreatic cancer is about 6 percent.

The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be accidental, as when another abdominal surgery is being performed. It can also be detected with an abdominal ultrasound, an MRI scan of the abdomen or a CT scan of the abdomen. In some cases, such as with an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography test or ERCP, the cancer can be visualized and samples of the tumour can be taken. This is especially true if the cancer is found in the head of the pancreas, the portion nearest the duodenum.

The treatment of pancreatic cancer may involve surgery to remove the cancer. If the cancer is widely metastatic, it sometimes makes no sense to do surgery and the cancer remains in the body. Chemotherapy and radiation can be done in order to kill as much of the pancreatic cancer cells as possible. There are clinical trials on pancreatic cancer done all the time that can help with the latest available treatments for the disease.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here