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Pancreatic Cancer

Overview and Facts

Pancreatic cancer accounts for 6% of cancer related fatalities, and is currently the fourth leading cause of cancer related deaths—according to the American Cancer Society. The pancreas is an organ composed of glands and is located directly below the stomach, resting besides the beginning portion of the small intestine. These glands are split into two categories, endocrine and exocrine. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is called adenocarcinoma, which occurs in the pancreas’ exocrine glands. Adenocarcinoma is accepted as the most aggressive type of cancer. Adenocarcinoma is so destructive that, in most cases, by the time any pancreatic cancer signs have been detected, the disease has already spread to other parts of the body. The fast-acting nature of this disease means the cancer will progress into its later stages faster, leaving few options for pancreatic cancer treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

The odds of surviving pancreatic cancer will increase in proportion with how early the disease is diagnosed. However, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often hard to distinguish because they can easily be attributed to other more common and less serious conditions. Pancreatic cancer symptoms include: bloating, decreased appetite, diarrhea, weight loss caused by other symptoms, back pain, abdomen pain and the skin turning yellow—jaundice. These symptoms could be caused by a large number of other illnesses, resulting in delayed diagnosis.

Causes and Diagnosis

It is practically impossible to tell what causes pancreatic cancer on an individual case-by-case basis. The most common explanation for pancreatic cancer developing is DNA mutations, where cancer carrying genes have been passed down by either a person’s mother of father. Smoking cigarettes regularly is the leading preventable cause of pancreatic cancer. Smoking nearly doubles your risk of developing the disease. A poor diet will greatly increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Diets high in meat, cholesterol, fried foods and nitrosamines will increase the risk of adenocarcinoma. Age is also an important when assessing the risk of pancreatic cancer—nearly 80% of all cases developed in patients between sixty and eighty years of age. Race and gender also play a role in the cause. Studies have proven that African Americans are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than Caucasians, and men are more likely to be afflicted than women. Obesity is also one of the causes of developing pancreatic cancer.

Tests and Treatments

Having a physical exam performed regularly can increase the chances of your doctor discovering pancreatic cancer signs early. However, adenocarcinoma is not usually discovered this way. Doctors can actually see an abnormal pancreatic growth when performing an abdominal ultrasound. Abdominal ultrasounds are commonly used by doctors when looking for gallstones. If an unnatural growth is discovered a CT scan will provide your physician with more information about it. A percutaneous biopsy performed, involving a doctor inserting a needle under the skin to obtain a small piece of any suspected tumor, will give definitive proof in is fact the growth is pancreatic cancer. Once the disease has been confirmed, its progression level will be classified as localized, locally advanced or metastatic. A localized tumor is totally confined within the bounds of the pancreas, requiring surgery to remove it. Locally advanced tumors often require multiple surgeries, and metastatic tumors, which have spread to other parts of the body, require intense levels of chemotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer—as well as surgery.

Helpful Tips and Home Remedies

There is no specific lifestyle that will guarantee that a person will not develop pancreatic adenocarcinoma, but taking measures to try and reduce the previously mentioned risk factors will guarantee that you are not making yourself more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Living a healthy, active life, and not smoking, drinking or consuming an excess of sugar are the best ways of decreasing your overall risk of developing adenocarcinoma.

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