The Dangers of Pancreatic Cancer
Learning about pancreatic cancer
Cancer that starts in the pancreas is dangerous because it’s hard to detect early. The pancreas is hidden behind other organs such as the stomach, so doctors don’t usually see or feel problems there.
No screening test for this cancer currently exists. Also, people may not have pancreatic cancer symptoms until the disease has spread through the body.
Pancreatic cancer: Who’s at risk?
Many people have risk factors for pancreatic cancer, but that doesn’t mean they will get the disease. Also, some major risk factors can be changed, including:
- Tobacco use
- Overweight and obesity
- Exposure to some chemicals
However, some risk factors can’t be changed. These include:
- Age – Almost all pancreatic cancer patients are older than 45, and the risk goes up as we age.
- Race – Pancreatic cancer affects African-Americans slightly more often than others.
- Family history – Pancreatic cancer seems to affect some families. Yet, most people who get this cancer don’t have a family history of it.
- Genetics – Some inherited gene changes may cause as much as 10% of pancreatic cancer.
Getting tested for pancreatic cancer
Certain proteins in the blood may be raised when a person has pancreatic cancer. Doctors can test for these “tumor markers,” but the markers don’t always go up with pancreatic cancer. Even if they do, the cancer may have already spread.
Some people have a family history of this cancer or inherited gene changes. Tests can be given to these people to look for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer: Signs and symptoms
Most cases of pancreatic cancer don’t have any obvious signs or symptoms. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer usually has spread. Symptoms of the most common kind of pancreatic cancer include:
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin
- Dark urine
- Belly or back pain
- Weight loss with poor appetite
- Enlarged gallbladder or liver
- Blood clots
Stages of pancreatic cancer
Cancer experts have divided pancreatic cancer into five main stages. They’ve added sub-stages too. The main stages are:
- Stage 0 – In this early stage, the cancer is found in the top layers of the pancreas.
- Stage 1 – Now the cancer has grown but has not spread outside the pancreas.
- Stage 2 – By this point, the cancer is growing outside the pancreas but not in major blood vessels or nerves.
- Stage 3 – The cancer is now growing outside the pancreas and has started affecting major blood vessels or nerves. It may have also spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 – This stage means that the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
To determine the right treatment, doctors may use a simpler system. This system is based on whether or not cthe cancer can be surgically removed. It divides the cancer into removable, borderline removable and not removable.
Getting treated for pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer often requires aggressive treatment, including pain control. Treatment usually means one or more of the following:
- Surgery – In some cases, the surgeon can remove all of the cancer, trying to cure it. If the cancer is too widespread for a cure, surgery can also be used to ease symptoms or fix cancer-related problems.
- Ablation or embolization – These techniques can destroy tumors in different ways, but do not usually cure the cancer. They can, however, help relieve symptoms.
- Radiation therapy – The use of high-energy rays can be combined with surgery or chemotherapy, or can be used on its own when other treatments won’t work.
- Chemotherapy – The use of anticancer drugs to weaken the cancer can be combined with surgery or radiation therapy, or can be used on their own in some situations.
- Targeted therapy – This involves using drugs that target the cancer cells directly and is sometimes combined with chemotherapy.
Coping with pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer can be hard to treat and the treatment itself can mean you won’t be feeling great. You may need to find ways to cope, and here are some things you can do:
- Rely on your family and/or friends – Everyone needs help dealing with this type of cancer. Family and/or friends can help you get through the tough times, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- Talk with your doctor – Your RCCA doctor or doctors can also help. They can tell you about support groups in your area, explain your treatments and keep your spirits up.
- Connect with outside groups – Get in touch with cancer organizations such as the American Cancer Society. These groups can help in many ways.
Regional Cancer Care Associates — Offering advanced cancer care
Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) oncologists have been trained at the world’s most distinguished medical institutions. Our experts have proven their leadership as professors, clinicians and researchers. At RCCA, we focus on you, individually. We offer high-quality, advanced treatment — close to home — and work with you and your family to make sure your care is second to none.