Dr Tendai Zuze
|PANCREATIC cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas (rwatata), an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and insulin that helps regulate the metabolism of sugars.|
Pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed early. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it’s a leading cause of cancer death. Signs and symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and complete surgical removal isn’t possible.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to your back
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
These, however, are not specific to pancreatic cancer and may be from other things.
You are more likely to get pancreatic cancer if you: are African, are overweight, have chronic pancreatitis, are diabetic, have a family history of pancreatic cancer or if you smoke. This cancer is also more likely with age and there may be a link with eating excessive red meat.
As pancreatic cancer progresses, it can cause complications such as:
Jaundice. Pancreatic cancer that blocks the liver’s bile duct can cause jaundice. Signs include yellow skin and eyes, dark-coloured urine, and pale-coloured stools.
Pain. A growing tumour may press on nerves in your abdomen, causing pain that can become severe. Pain medications can help you feel more comfortable. Radiation therapy may help stop tumour growth temporarily to give you some relief.
Bowel obstruction. Pancreatic cancer that grows into or presses on the small intestine (duodenum) can block the flow of digested food from your stomach into your intestines.
Weight loss. A number of factors may cause weight loss in people with pancreatic cancer. The cancer itself may cause weight loss.
Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatments or a tumour pressing on your stomach may make it difficult to eat.
Or your body may have difficulty properly processing nutrients from food because your pancreas isn’t making enough digestive juices.
If your doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, they may ask for imaging tests like abdominal ultrasound, CT or MRI scans to confirm the diagnosis.
Blood tests, including so called cancer markers may also be done as well as a biopsy of the suspicious pancreas.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer as well as on your age, overall health and personal preferences.
The first goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to eliminate the cancer, when possible, through surgery.
When that isn’t an option, the focus may be on preventing the pancreatic cancer from growing or causing more harm by using chemotherapy or radiotherapy. When pancreatic cancer is advanced and treatments aren’t likely to offer a benefit, your doctor will help to relieve symptoms and make you as comfortable as possible.
Although there is no proven way to prevent pancreatic cancer, you can take steps to reduce your risk, including:
Stop smoking. If you smoke, stop. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you stop, including support groups, medications and nicotine replacement therapy. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you currently have a healthy weight, work to maintain it. If you need to lose weight, aim for a slow, steady weight loss, maximum 1kg a week.
Combine daily exercise with a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains with smaller portions to help you lose weight.
Choose a healthy diet. A diet full of colourful fruits and vegetables and whole grains may help reduce your risk of cancer.
If you are worried about pancreatic cancer please visit your doctor.