Pancreatic Cancer: A Silent Killer Disease
Pancreatic cancer is considered to be among the most serious cancers known in modern medicine. It is the third most progressive cancer that is resistant to treatment and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
The pancreas is a large organ, around 6 inches long, in the shape of a thin pear lying on its side. It is a well-hidden gland lying in front of the spine just behind the stomach, liver, the small intestines, spleen, the gall bladder, and bile ducts. The pancreas is basically responsible for the production of digestive juices used by the body to break down food, as well as the production of hormones like insulin and glucagons used by the body to control the blood sugar level.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant tumors form in the tissues of the pancreas.
As researchers have discovered, risk factors for pancreatic cancer includes smoking, dietary factors, diabetes mellitus, and chronic pancreatitis among others, which may be hereditary in nature.
Smokers are found to have 2-fold increased risk at the minimum of contracting pancreatic cancer.
Dietary factors also take its toll in triggering pancreatic carcinoma. Excessive alcohol intake associated with the condition of chronic pancreatitis may aggravate to pancreatic cancer. However, coffee consumption, contrary to early reports, is not a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. It has also been reported that people with diets that are rich in fresh vegetables and fruits are less prone to this kind of cancer, while there is more incidence of pancreatic cancer in people with greater energy consumption.
Patients of diabetes mellitus are also found to have a 2-fold increased risk in contracting pancreatic carcinoma.
The disturbing fact about pancreatic cancer is that it is very hard to diagnose. Early detection is also very difficult as the symptoms of the disease often manifest themselves only when the cancer is already in its advanced stages. And by this time, the patients may already have other incurable diseases.
In the United States, there was an estimated 30,300 deaths in the year 2002 attributed to pancreatic carcinoma. The survival time associated with this kind of cancer is generally short which most often is only less than a year. And the overall 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is a meager 5%.
Signs and Symptoms
Known early-warning signs of pancreatic cancer include severe abdominal pain, weight loss, jaundice, to name a few.
Pain is the most common complaint among patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Severe pain is usually experienced in the upper abdominal area that may radiate to the back.
Another characteristic feature of this kind of cancer is significant weight loss.
The various signs of jaundice are yellowish color of the white of the eyes, yellowing and itching of the skin, and dark urine color. Jaundice is also often present in liver or bile duct conditions.
Onset of nonspecific symptoms like malaise, fatigue, anorexia, nausea and back or midepigastric pain may also be present.
Pancreatic cancer, unless detected early, can no longer be controlled when it has already spread. Often, removal of the pancreas through surgery is the only option. But if the cancer has already spread, palliative treatment may be served to at least alleviate the pain and improve the patient's quality of life through controlling the disease's symptoms and other complications.