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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