Early Detection Of Pancreatic Cancer: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

Early Detection Of Pancreatic Cancer: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

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Pancreatic Cancer:

According to the Mayo Clinic, pancreatic cancer (pancreatic carcinoma) forms in the tissues of the pancreas, which is an organ located right behind the lower section of the stomach. The pancreas releases enzymes, which assist the body's digestive system, and also releases hormones such as insulin, which specialize in regulating sugar metabolism. Since these functions are so internal, symptoms of pancreatic cancer don't usually appear until well after its onset. Even if the cancer is caught early, prognosis is often not hopeful. Pancreatic cancer tends to spread quickly and when it reaches an advanced stage, surgical removal is not possible.

Types Of Pancreatic Cancer:

Pancreatic cancer is found in two different variations. The first variation forms in the ducts of the pancreas and is referred to as adenocarcinoma or "exocrine tumors." This form is the most common, affecting the duct-lining pancreatic cells, which assist in the production of digestive fluid. The second variation forms in the pancreatic cells, which produce hormones, and is called endocrine cancer. This variation is extremely rare. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Symptoms And Complications:

Symptoms are not present until the cancer has advanced. They include upper abdominal pain that often spreads to the back, jaundice (noticed when the skin and whites of eyes take on a yellow hue), a decrease in appetite, weight loss, depression and the formation of blood clots. It is recommended that a doctor visit be made when any combination of these symptoms occur, as they also explain a myriad of other conditions and diseases. As the tumor spreads, abdominal nerves may become pinched, causing excruciating pain. Medications and radiation treatment are often prescribed for temporary pain relief, but extreme cases may require a procedure called celiac plexus block, in which alcohol is injected into the pain nerves to prevent their signals from reaching the brain. Another complication that can occur is bowel obstruction, as the spread of the cancer can grow into or put pressure onto the small intestine and restrict the distribution of digested food (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Prevention:

There is no clear way to prevent pancreatic cancer, so the best thing to do is to lessen the amount of risk factors in one's life. This may entail giving up smoking, exercising frequently, keeping a healthy body weight and choosing a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and veggies. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Treatment:

The primary goal in treating pancreatic cancer is to find a way to remove it, if possible. In tumors, which are located in the "head" section of the pancreas, a surgical operation called a Whipple procedure (also called a pancreatoduodenectomy) is recommended to remove this entire section, and a section of the small intestine called the duodenum as well. When the tumor is located in the tail or body of the pancreas, the affected section must removed - sometimes along with the spleen. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy, the latter of which involves the prescription of drugs to attack specialized cancer cell abnormalities, are also possible non-invasive treatments. Currently, vaccines are being tested to treat pancreatic cancer.

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