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To learn more about pancreatic cancer, one should first learn about the organ called pancreas. Pancreases are found in the abdominal area of the body and are responsible for the production of certain enzymes that aid the digestion process. Since the pancreases have such an important function, it is only natural that the prognosis is often quite poor for a patient who is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, especially if the cancer has already reached an advanced level of growth.
This page will look into some important aspects of pancreatic cancer.
What causes pancreatic cancer?
The exact causes of pancreatic cancer have not been established yet. However, scientists have been able to come up with a list of risk factors that are commonly associated with pancreatic cancer. Some of those risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer are discussed below.
A person has increased risk levels as they get older. The worst affected group in the population is the group that is over the age of 60. Also, medical statistics seem to suggest that the African American population has a particularly high chance of contracting pancreatic cancer during their lifetime, when compared to other population groups.
Patients suffering from a health condition called pancreatitis are also at risk of developing this cancer. Obese people and people who smoke cigarettes routinely are also at higher risk of contracting this type of cancer.
What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
It is possible for a person to have pancreatic cancer without knowing it as the cancer will begin to exhibit symptoms only when it has reached an advanced stage of growth. When the cancer reaches an intermediate or advanced level of growth, patients will often experience a sharp pain in their abdomen that will go all the way around to the back. They might also experience yellowness in their eyes, as if they were suffering from jaundice.
Patients may also suffer from certain general symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, depression and a weight loss that cannot be explained properly.
How is pancreatic cancer treated?
Doctors will usually resort to surgery to remove the cancerous cells in the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer cells can affect the head of the pancreas or the tail and body of the pancreas. The surgeon will perform one of two different surgeries, depending on where the cancerous cells are located in the pancreas. One should understand that surgery is an option only when the pancreatic cancer is localized. In other words, surgery cannot be performed on a patient who is suffering from pancreatic cancer that has already metastasized to other parts of the body.
When surgery is not an option, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and chemotherapy are used to treat pancreatic cancer. One also has the option to enroll in a clinical study where a federally funded research team will experiment with treatment of pancreatic cancer with new drugs. There is a fair amount of risk associated with clinical trials although several patients have successfully taken part in clinical trials, seeing improvements in their health, brought about by a successful elimination of the cancer.
Some efforts have also been made to create a vaccine for pancreatic cancer although such studies are still in a very experimental stage.