Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is dedicated to creating awareness and educating people about the causes, manifestations and treatment of Pancreatic Cancer. Throughout November, medical practitioners, governmental and non-governmental organisations come together with the aim of creating awareness of issues related to Pancreatic Cancer amongst the public.

Understanding the Pancreas

The pancreas is an organ that is found in the abdomen and it borders the lower part of the stomach. The pancreas plays a role in both the endocrine and the digestive system. Its endocrine function involves the production of hormones such as insulin and glucagon that are involved in the metabolism of sugars in the human body. The pancreas also produces pancreatic juice that contains digestive enzymes that are involved in breakdown and absorption of nutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer begins when normal pancreatic cells grow out of control and increase in number forming a mass of cells. The cancerous cells formed are different from normal pancreatic cells and they can spread to other parts of the body. 

Classification of Pancreatic Cancer is based on the part affected. It can either affect the exocrine or the endocrine part of the pancreas. The most common type of cancer that affects the exocrine part of the pancreas is Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. The exocrine is the largest part of the pancreas and hence Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of Pancreatic Cancer. If the endocrine part is affected, then islet cell tumours are produced although these are less common than the exocrine types.

Causes of Pancreatic Cancer

The exact cause of Pancreatic Cancer is not known, however, the risk factors that lead to it are well known. Excessive alcoholism leads to Chronic Pancreatitis which predisposes one to Pancreatic Cancer. The risk of getting Pancreatic Cancer also increases with age. Cigarette smoking is also a predisposing cause. People who smoke for a long time have double the risk of developing Pancreatic Cancer. Some cases of Pancreatic Cancer develop due to familial history.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

A person with Pancreatic Cancer may present with the following symptoms:

  • Yellowing of the skin due to jaundice
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • The tumor presses nerves on the abdomen which leads to abdominal pain

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer involves taking patient’s history, carrying out a physical examination on the patient and imaging techniques such as computed tomography to check whether the tumour is present. A CT scan can also be used to determine whether the tumour can be removed surgically. A biopsy can also help in the diagnosis. A good diagnosis leads to better treatment and a good prognosis.

Treating Pancreatic Cancer

There are various treatment options available for patients with Pancreatic Cancer. One of the treatments available is the use of Anti-Angiogenic agents which work by prevention of formation of new blood cells. Another therapy is organ support that ensures that the patient’s organ is carefully monitored. Exercise with Oxygen Therapy (EWOT) can also be used. This exercise aids in oxygenating the patient’s bloodstream.

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