Pancreatic Cancer

Our Cancer Center provides the highest quality pancreatic cancer treatment available in a patient centric environment at Adena Regional Medical Center in Chillicothe OH

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Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths among Americans. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk for men to develop pancreatic cancer is 1 in 63, and men are four times more likely than women to develop the disease. About 55,400 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in a given year. Diagnosis is difficult because pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly and is hard to detect.

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach. It is responsible for secreting enzymes to aid in digestion and regulate metabolism and blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the pancreas.

There are two types of cancer, based on where in the pancreas cancer first started to spread:

  • Exocrine tumors. This is the most common type of cancer in the pancreas. Exocrine tumors (adenocarcinoma) usually starts in the ducts of the pancreas.
  • Endocrine tumors. Endocrine tumors are also called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell tumors. These makeup about 1% of all pancreatic tumors.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms and signs of pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Pain that’s centralized in the upper or middle abdomen and back
  • Unintended weight loss
  • New onset diabetes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

Pancreatic Cancer Causes

“Is pancreatic cancer genetic?” is an extremely common question, and the answer is not as simple as “yes” or “no.” The primary cause of all cancers is a mutation in the DNA. For example, a mutation in the tumor suppressor gene causes cells to divide and grow uncontrollably until a tumor forms. There are certain risk factors tied to pancreatic cancer, including:

  • Pancreatitis, which is chronic inflammation of the pancreas
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of genetic syndromes linked to cancer risk or pancreatic cancer specifically
  • Obesity
  • Older age
  • Smoking

Prevention of all types of pancreatic cancer is not possible, but there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk. Behaviors linked to the prevention of pancreatic cancer include:

Stages of Pancreatic Cancer

The stages of pancreatic cancer are as follows:

  • Stage 0. Cancer is present but has not spread. Pancreatic cancer cells are limited to top layers of cells in the pancreas ducts. You cannot see Stage 0 cancer on an imaging test or even with the naked eye.
  • Stage 1. There is a local growth of cancer. Pancreatic cancer is just in the pancreas, but has grown to less than 2 centimeters across (stage IA) or greater than 2 but no more than 4 centimeters (stage IB).
  • Stage 2. There is local spread of cancer. Pancreatic cancer has exceeded 4 centimeters and is either limited to the pancreas or there is local spread where cancer has grown outside of the pancreas, or has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Cancer has not made it to distant sites in the body.
  • Stage 3. Wider spread. The tumor may have expanded into nearby major blood vessels or nerves, but has not formed a tumor distant sites.
  • Stage 4. Confirmed spread. Pancreatic cancer has spread to distant organs.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options

The most appropriate treatment option for a patient with pancreatic cancer will depend on the stage of cancer and other factors. Options include:

Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

There are two types of surgery used for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Usually the doctor makes a few small incisions and uses a camera device to determine the extent of cancer prior to recommending one option or another:

  • Potentially curative surgery. A doctor will recommend potentially curative surgery if exams and test results suggest removing the entirety of the cancerous tissue is possible. This could mean removing the pancreas entirely or just a section of it. The goal of this surgery is a potential cure.
  • Palliative surgery. If cancer has spread too much, the doctor may recommend palliative surgery to relieve certain symptoms or to protect against complications, such as a bile duct obstruction. The goal of this surgery is not to cure, but rather to improve the quality of life.

Pancreatic Cancer Medications/Radiation/Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy refers to using medications to prevent cancer cells from dividing and spreading. Chemotherapy can be used at any stage of pancreatic cancer. There are many different cancer drugs, including:

  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • Irinotecan (Camptosar)
  • Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
  • Albumin-bound paclitaxel (Abraxane)
  • Capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • Cisplatin
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Irinotecan liposome (Onivyde)

Medications are used to either alleviate painful or uncomfortable symptoms or as targeted therapies to try and attack specific changes that happen in the cancer cell to help them grow.

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