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What is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is an essential endocrine as well as an exocrine organ located behind the stomach. Its main function is to produce an enzyme that helps in digesting fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It also produces insulin and hence is responsible for controlling the blood sugar level in the body. When there is cancerous growth of cells in the pancreas, it is known as pancreatic cancer.

How common is Pancreatic Cancer?

In India, 0.5 – 2.4 per 100,000 men and 0.2 – 1.8 per 100,000 women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

What are the causes of Pancreatic Cancer?

The causes of this disease are still unknown.

What are the risk factors of Pancreatic Cancer?

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • No physical activity
  • Diabetes
  • Working with chemicals and pesticides
  • Liver damage
  • Genetic disorders
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Alcoholism

What are the symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

How is Pancreatic Cancer diagnosed?

  • CT or an MRI scan: To get a detailed image of the pancreas and to stage the cancer
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: A thin tube with a camera is inserted into the stomach to get pictures of the pancreas. This helps in diagnosis and also us useful in getting the biopsy of the abnormal growth.
  • Biopsy: Tissue from the pancreas is taken and sent to the pathology lab.
  • Blood tests: To detect if tumor marker CA 19-9 is present.

How is Pancreatic Cancer treated?

Pancreatic cancer can be treated in the following ways:

  • Surgery: If the tumor has stayed confined to the pancreas, surgery is recommended. If the tumor is restricted to the head and neck of the pancreas, a procedure called Whipple is performed. In a modified version of this procedure, a part of the stomach is removed too.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy utilizes ionizing radiation to destroy the cancer cells. This treatment option is considered once the cancer has spread outside of the pancreas.
  • Chemotherapy: In some cases, doctor include chemotherapy as well to stop cancer cells from growing in the future. But both radiation and chemotherapy has limited benefits.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care is given to patients in the last stages of cancer. The focus is on pain management and managing the symptoms of the disease rather than the disease itself.

What are the complications of Pancreatic Cancer?

If pancreatic cancer is left undiagnosed or untreated, it can spread to other organs in the body and disrupt their functions. Untreated cancer can also lead to death.

What lifestyle changes are required to manage Pancreatic Cancer?

  • Quit smoking as it increases health risks
  • Eat a well- balanced diet. Eating a nutritious diet can contribute to overall energy, elevate mood, increase strength and help you recover faster.
  • Keep your surrounding clean to lower your risk of infection
  • Manage fatigue
  • Join support groups for motivation and emotional strength

How to take care of someone with Pancreatic Cancer?

  • Provide physical care by monitoring their medications and helping them with daily chores like bathing, eating, etc.
  • Provide emotional care by listening to them and showing the love and talking to them
  • Provide practical care by managing their appointments, paying bills and coordinating with friends and family for visits.

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