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Pancreatic Cancer

What is Pancreas?

The pancreas is a 6-inch-long spongy, tube-shaped organ located in the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. It has two major jobs in the body: to make digestive juices (enzymes) that help the intestines break down food, and to produce hormones including insulin that regulate the body's use of sugars and starches. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones.

What is Pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.

Causes of Pancreatic Cancer

Although the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not known, smoking is the main risk factor, with smokers at least 2 times more likely to have the disease than nonsmokers. Age is also related, with the disease usually striking after the age of 45. Diabetes is also linked to pancreatic cancer since it's a risk factor and as a symptom of the disease. Other risks include chronic pancreatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. Family history of pancreatic cancer, high fat diet, obesity and lack of exercise may also play a part.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is called a "silent" disease because symptoms typically do not show up in the early stages. But as the cancer grows and spreads, pain often develops in the upper abdomen and sometimes spreads to the back. The pain may become worse after the person eats or lies down.

Other symptoms may include

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Depression

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer

The challenge of this disease is finding it early. A doctor cannot see or feel a tumour during a routine exam. To help make the diagnosis (and determine the most appropriate treatment), imaging tests are performed such as an ultrasound or CT scan to view pictures of the abdomen and determine the extent of the problem. The diagnosis comes from a biopsy taking a tissue sample from the tumour performed either with a needle through the skin or during an operation.

  • CT scan (computed tomography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS)
  • Laparoscopy (surgical procedure to look at organs)
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC; procedure used to X-ray liver and bile ducts)
  • Biopsy (removal of tissue to view it under a microscope)

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

There are various treatments for pancreatic cancer.They are:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Palliative Therapy

Is Prevention Possible?

Although there's no one definite action you can take to prevent pancreatic cancer, start by avoiding the risk factors you can control.

  • If you smoke, quit now.
  • If your diet is high in fat, work to eat a healthy diet.
  • Adopt a regular exercise routine, since exercise can help prevent diabetes and obesity.

Resources

About Pancreatic cancer



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