Pancreatic cancers can cause death and debilitation. This is why it is necessary that we know more about its causes, its risk factors and how it can be prevented. In this article we are going to talk about pancreatic cancers and the latest news involving tem.
The discussion about pancreatic cancer is never complete without considering its relevant anatomy and physiology. The pancreasis is an organ found behind the stomach and located at the back portion of the abdomen. This organ contains both exocrine and endocrine glands that secrete hormones, enzymes and other substances which are important in digestion. It is the pancreas that secretes enzymes that digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The islets of Langerhans are located in the pancreas and secrete insulin and glucagon to the bloodstream. These two hormones regulate glucose metabolism in the body. If these hormones are not working properly, they may result to the condition known as diabetes.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas are replaced by cancerous cells. These cancerous cells get out of control and they multiply and divide excessively to form clumps or masses of cells. These abnormal cells further divide and may also spread to other parts of the body. If these cells exhibit limited growth, the cancer is said to be benign. If these cells migrate to other parts of the body through the blood and lymphatic systems, the cancer is said to be malignant. Malignant pancreatic cancer becomes metastatic and is thus hard to treat.
Thousands of people are now diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is usually diagnosed late in this development so that not more than 5% survive after diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer is further classified as to whether it affects the exocrine or the endocrine part of the body. These two types of pancreatic cancer differ according to their causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatments and prognoses.
The most common types of pancreatic cancers are the ones that affect exocrine functions. They are mostly benign and appear as cystadenomas. Adenocarcinomas are the malignant forms of pancreatic cancers and they account for about 95% of exocrine pancreatic cancers. The malignant forms usually start off in the gland cells of the ducts of the pancreas, however they may also arise from pancreatic enzyme cells, earning the name acinar cell carcinoma. Other exocrine types of pancreatic cancers are adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and giant cell carcinomas. The classifications are based on histology during biopsy. On the other hand, the endocrine cancers of the pancreas are mostly neuroendocrine or islet cell tumors because they mostly affect islet cells. They are also termed as insulinomas when they affect cells that produce insulin, glucagonomas when they affect cells that produce glucagon, gastrinomas when they affect cells that produce gastrin, somatostatinomas when they affect cells that produce somatostatin and VIPomas when they affect cells that produce vasoactive intestinal peptide or VIP.
There are several causes of pancreatic cancers. One is DNA damage or mutations. The other factor is genes that run in the family. Cancers such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, melanoma, pancreatitis, and non-polyposis colorectal cancer in the family can predispose to pancreatic cancers. Carcinogens and free radicals can also predispose to pancreatic cancers. Other factors include age, cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, helicobacter pylori infection (infection of the stomach with the ulcer-causing bacteria H. pylori), diabetes mellitus, chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and gingivitis or periodontal disease. Smoking, sedentary lifestyles, alcohol consumption and high fat diets are also risk factors.
New Discoveries for Pancreatic Cancers
Recently, a study done by researchers has studied the bark of the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) for anticancer effects. The reulkts were published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. They have found out that the extract blocks those pathways and inhibits the scarring that thwarts anti-cancer drugs. Fibrosis is the key process in pancreatic cancer and the extract blocks fibrosis-related pathways. In previous studies, the bark extract has showed promising results in treating prostate cancers. This study has spearheaded more trials that test the capsule form of the bark against cancers such as prostate and pancreatic cancers.
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