Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages, making it a difficult cancer to treat successfully. Here’s a guide to understanding the disease.
Over the last few years, plenty of attention has been directed at pancreatic cancer owing to diagnoses of prominent celebrity figures such as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, actor Patrick Swayze, and former US President Jimmy Carter who was diagnosed in 2015. Caused by proliferation of malignant cancer cells in the tissues of the pancreas gland, pancreatic cancer is a life-threatening disease. Accounting for about 7 percent of cancer deaths in the United States, pancreatic cancer projections show a 1 out of 67 average lifetime risk of developing this condition. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why pancreatic cancer is considered a dangerous life-taking disease is that it is difficult to detect at an early stage, making it even more difficult to treat.
Located between the stomach and the spine, the pancreas is a gland that is approximately 6 inches long. It is shaped like a pear, with a distinctly wide end (known as the head) and a tapering end (known as the tail). The pancreas is the gland responsible for manufacturing the digestive juices that break down the food you eat. Another primary function of the gland is to produce hormones like insulin and glucagon that help to monitor and regulate blood sugar levels. Approximately 95 percent of all pancreatic cancer cases originate from the exocrine cells of the gland. Endocrine pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare occurrence.
Risk factors are predictors that show an increased risk for developing a certain disease. However, you may never develop pancreatic cancer even if you have all the risk factors, and conversely, you may develop the disease even if you have none of the risk factors. However, a distinct correlation between some risk factors and pancreatic cancer have been observed over the decades.
Smoking is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer as well as a number of other malignant cancers. Other risk factors include obesity, family history of pancreatic cancer/pancreatitis, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, as well as other hereditary conditions such as MEN1 syndrome, HNPCC – Lynch syndrome, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, FAMMM, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, and hereditarily passed-on breast/ovarian cancer syndromes.
This cancer is a silent killer, and often causes no early warning symptoms at all. Furthermore, the signs and symptoms caused by pancreatic cancer can be easily misdiagnosed as those caused by other conditions. Some of the common pancreatic cancer symptoms include jaundice, dark-colored urine, loss of appetite and excessive weight loss for no apparent reason, light-colored stools, pain in the abdomen and back, fatigue, etc. If you believe you are at a risk of developing pancreatic cancer, or have any of these manifestations, it is a good idea to get yourself checked with your doctor at the earliest.
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