What is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas is a long gland that is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver, spleen and gallbladder. It has the important job of secreting enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars. When the cells in the pancreas develop mutations in their DNA, they can grow uncontrollably, resulting in pancreatic cancer.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer often do not begin right away. However, when they are noticed, they may include:
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
- Pain in the abdomen and back.
- Dark urine.
- Itchy skin.
- Weight loss.
There are certain factors that may increase your risk for developing pancreatic cancer, including diabetes, smoking, pancreatitis, a family history of pancreatic cancer, obesity or being over the age of 65.
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How is Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosed
To diagnose pancreatic cancer, your doctor will have you undergo some testing. These tests may include imaging tests such as CT scans or MRI, an endoscopic ultrasound, a biopsy procedure or blood tests.
Once pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will work to figure out if the cancer has spread through a process known as staging. The stage of cancer defines how much cancer is in the body, how serious the cancer is, and therefore, how best to treat it.
Pancreas cancer stages include:
This is the earliest stage of pancreatic cancer. It is confined to the top layers of the pancreatic duct cells and has not yet reached the deeper layers of tissue. Cancer has also not spread outside of the pancreas or to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 1 is split into two separate stages known as IA and IB. During stage IA, the cancer is confined to the pancreas and is not larger than 2 cm across. In stage IB, the cancer is still confined to the pancreas. It is larger than 2 cm but not more than 4 cm across. The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes in both stages IA and IB.
Stage 2 is divided into two stages known as IIA and IIB. During stage IIA, cancer is confined to the pancreas but is larger than 4 cm across, and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes. During stage IIB, the cancer is confined to the pancreas and is no larger than 2 cm across, and has spread to no more than 3 lymph nodes.
During stage 3, the cancer is confined to the pancreas and is no larger than 2 cm across. It has spread to 4 or more nearby lymph nodes, but not to distant areas of the body.
Stage 4 cancer has spread to other areas of the body such as the lungs, bones or liver. It may be any size and may or may not have spread to lymph nodes.
Treatment Options for Pancreatic Cancer
The treatment that is right for you will depend on the stage and location of the cancer, as well as your health and preferences. The main goal of treatment is to eradicate the cancer if possible. If this is not possible, the goal will be to limit the cancer from growing further or causing complications. Pancreatic cancer treatment options may include:
There are several surgical procedures that may be performed to remove tumors in the pancreas or the entire pancreas itself. Your doctor will advise you on which procedure is right for you and your individual case.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells. Patients may undergo radiation before or after surgery, or in combination with chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and is usually used to treat cancer that has not yet spread beyond the pancreas to other areas of the body. It may be used alone or along with radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to precisely identify and attack certain types of cancer cells. It may be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Your South Denver GI Team
At South Denver GI, our team of physicians and advanced practice providers have the expertise to provide you with outstanding care. If you would like to learn more about Pancreatic Cancer or need to schedule an appointment at our office, contact us today!
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