What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is a cancer affecting the pancreas, a six-inch organ which is located behind the stomach at the back of the abdomen. This fish-shaped organ is located horizontally across the abdomen. The pancreas contain both exocrine and endocrine glands that secrete pancreatic juices, hormones, and insulin. Pancreatic juice or enzymes are made by the exocrine glands and are released into the intestines through ducts; these juices and enzymes help digest fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. The endocrine cells on the other hand are arranged in clusters and are known as islets of Langerhans, which release insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These two hormones regulate the amount of sugar in the blood.
Cancer is the condition in which the cells grow out of control, creating a mass of cells called tumor. Tumors then interfere with the main function of the pancreas. If the growth of the tumor is confined to the pancreas, the condition is said to be benign. If the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, it is said to be malignant. The tumor may spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic systems. If it invades and destroys healthy, this is termed as metastasis. Metastasis is a cancer stage which is more difficult to treat.
Pancreatic cancer is classified as to whether it affects the exocrine or the endocrine portion of the pancreas. These two types of pancreatic cancer are different in terms of different risk factors, causes, symptoms, diagnostic tests, treatments, and prognoses. Those cancers that affect the exocrine function are the most common types of pancreatic cancers. These tumors may be cystadenomas which are benign cysts. Malignant tumors are called adenocarcinomas, which account for 95% of exocrine pancreatic cancers. These adenocarcinomas typically start in the gland cells of the duct of the pancreas but they may also start from pancreatic enzyme cells (acinar cell carcinoma). Other exocrine cancers include adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and giant cell carcinomas.
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Cancers that affect the endocrine function of the pancreas are known as neuroendocrine or islet cell tumors. They are named after the type of cell that they affect. Examples are insulinomas (insulin), glucagonomas (glucagon), gastrinomas (gastrin), somatostatinomas (somatostatin), and VIPomas (vasoactive intestinal peptide or VIP).
Risk factors that can lead to pancreatic cancer include genes, exposure to carcinogens, race, 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. Other factors include smoking, obesity, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and alcohol consumption.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, pale-colored stools, weight loss, body malaise, loss of appetite, elevated blood sugar, jaundice and itching.
Risk for Pancreatic Cancer May Be Lowered By Aspirin
A recent study published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, has found out that the longer a person took low-dose aspirin, the lower his or her risk for developing pancreatic cancer. The researchers have found out that low dose aspirin can cut the risk of pancreatic cancer by half. There was a 48 percent risk reduction for developing pancreatic cancer in men and women who took low-dose aspirin regularly. Protection against pancreatic cancer ranged from 39 percent reduction in risk for those who took low-dose aspirin for six years or less, to 60 percent reduction in risk for those who took low-dose aspirin for more than 10 years.
More medical breakthroughs can be found on the other articles of this site.