What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that affects the pancreas, a 6-inch organ that lies behind the stomach and at the back of the abdomen. The pancreas functions to secrete pancreatic juices, insulin and other hormones. Pancreatic juices or enzymes help digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Insulin and glucagon are released into the bloodstream from the Islets of Langerhans, the endocrine cells of the pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer is characterized by cell growth in the pancreas which is out of control. Abnormal cells infiltrate the pancreas to form lumps and masses of tissue called tumors. These tumors affect the functions of the pancreas. If they are confined to the pancreas, they are termed as benign. If these tumors migrate to other parts of the body, they are termed as malignant. A malignant tumor may spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. This process of spreading to other parts of the body is termed as metastasis and this is very difficult to treat.
There are many types of pancreatic cancer. Tumors that affect the exocrine functions are the most common type of pancreatic cancer. If benign, these tumors are called cystadenomas. However, about 95% of tumour that affect exocrine functions are malignant tumors called adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are tumors that start in the cells of the ducts of the pancreas and pancreatic enzyme cells (acinar cell carcinoma). Other exocrine pancreatic cancers include adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and giant cell carcinomas. Another cancer is ampullary cancer (carcinoma of the ampulla of Vater) that starts where the bile duct and pancreatic duct meet the duodenum of the small intestine.
On the other hand, pancreatic tumors that affect the endocrine functions of the pancreas are called neuroendocrine or islet cell tumors. They are often named based on the hormone that they secrete. These endocrine tumors include insulinomas (insulin), glucagonomas (glucagon), gastrinomas (gastrin), somatostatinomas (somatostatin), and VIPomas (vasoactive intestinal peptide or VIP). Majority of these endocrine tumors are benign. Islet cell carcinomas are often malignant.
Pancreatic cancer can result from a variety of risk factors, one of which is genes. Damaged or mutated DNA can result to damaged genes which can affect cell division. If cell division is affected, abnormal cells will proliferate causing tumors and further spreading to other parts of the body. Faulty genes may be inherited or may develop due to environmental factors. Genetic syndromes that are associated with pancreatic cancer include hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, melanoma, pancreatitis, and non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). Other risk factors include 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.
Green Tea and Pancreatic Cancer
A recent study published online by the journal, Metabolomics, has shown that EGCG, the active biologic constituent in green tea, changed the metabolism of pancreatic cancer cells by suppressing the expression of an enzyme associated with cancer, LDHA. The researchers also found an enzyme inhibitor, oxamate, which is known to reduce LDHA activity, operated in the same manner: It also disrupted the pancreatic cancer cells metabolic system. Thus we can say that green tea can be a possible treatment for pancreatic cancer. The researchers concluded that both EGCG and oxamate reduced the risk of cancer by suppressing the activity of LDHA, a critical enzyme in cancer metabolism, thereby disrupting the balance in the cancer cells metabolic functions.
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