Pancreatic cancer develops in the pancreas which is located in the abdomen behind the stomach. The pancreas is responsible for producing hormones that process sugars and enzymes that aid in digestion. Pancreatic cancer is not one of the more common cancers, and the rates of survival are among the lowest because it is often discovered in the late stages and spreads quickly to other organs.
Symptoms are very rarely present in the early stages of the disease. Once the cancer advances, some of the symptoms you might experience include pain in the abdomen that radiates to the back, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice, blood clots, and fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, they may be indicative of pancreatic cancer or a number of other disorders. It’s best to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
After a thorough physical exam including questions about your family medical history, your doctor will send you for additional testing if he has any cause for concern. Those tests will likely include blood tests to look for tumor markers in the blood and imaging tests such as an ultrasound, MRI, PET scan or CT scan. Your doctor may also remove a sample of the tissue for closer examination in a lab.
When surgery is a viable option, it is one of the more commonly practiced treatments for surgical cancer. Sometimes just a portion of the pancreas is removed, but removing the entire organ is sometimes necessary. Other types of treatments may be ordered instead of or in addition to surgery such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to cure because it is rarely caught early and before the cancer spreads to other parts of the body. Once this occurs, (known as metastasis) treating the cancer becomes much more extensive. The survival rates, however, are slowly rising as researchers work tirelessly to discover new ways to diagnose and treat this disease.