Pancreatic cancer is when a malignant tumor is found in the pancreas. It is called a silent disease because there are not a lot of symptoms to show that the tumor is there. Typically what happens is that the tumor will block the bile duct so that bile cannot bass through to the digestive system which usually requires pancreas surgery to correct.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
While there are not a lot, there are some symptoms that can be looked for. However, by the time symptoms are showing, the cancer may have already spread to beyond the pancreas. Here are some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer:
- Jaundice-this is when the skin and the eyes become yellow because of the build up of bilirubin. Bilirubin is made in the liver and too much of it can cause problems in the digestive system and the excretion process. When bile can’t get through to the intestine, bilirubin builds up.
- Dark urine-this is related to the increase in bilirubin. When bilirubin levels are high, urine can become brown in color. Typically it is described as being dark.
- Stomach or back pain-this is common with pancreatic cancer because the cancer can press on organs near the pancreas like the colon or even the spine and cause painful symptoms to occur. The cancer can also affect the nerves that are around the pancreas.
- Poor appetite-people with pancreatic cancer often lose weight without trying because they have no appetite or at least a very decreased appetite. They must try and force themselves to eat healthy foods in order to maintain a good weight for their height.
- Nausea-vomiting can also occur as the cancer presses on the stomach. This makes the nausea and vomiting particularly bad after eating.
- Liver enlargement-the bile that is blocked has to go somewhere so often times it can collect in the gallbladder or liver and make it seem to swell. This can usually only be determined by a doctor feeling under the rib cage during a physical or being seen on an imaging test.
- Blood clots-often this is the first sign of pancreatic cancer. Symptoms of the blood clot include swelling and redness and often a warmth and pain at the site of the blood clot.
As you can see, the difficult with pancreatic cancer symptoms is that they are all common symptoms of other conditions also. Just because you have one or even a few of these symptoms, does not mean that you definitely have pancreatic cancer. Many people panic when they hear of these symptoms and think they will need pancreas surgery. However, after speaking with a pancreas surgeon or even a liver surgeon, they realize that these don’t always point to cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment
If it does turn out that you need pancreas surgery, there are two types that can be used.
- Potentially curative pancreas surgery which is used when the exam and test results show that the surgeon may be able to remove the entire tumor and all of the cancer.
- Palliative surgery is the other kind which is done if the tests show that the cancer has spread to much. The surgery will remove symptoms or relieve complications but the goal of this surgery is comfort over cure.
Pancreatic Cancer Causes
So, what really causes pancreatic cancer?
Unfortunately, there’s no definite way to tell what it is specifically that causes cancer over all but there are some principles of cancer biology that can help us understand a little better why this kind of cancer can develop.
Pancreatic cancer is really caused when the DNA becomes damaged or mutated. The mutations can be inherited or acquired through age. Inherited mutations will come either through a mother or a father and acquired mutations happen because of the damage that occurs to our bodies as we get older and over time. The pancreas can actually begin to grow abnormally when either of these things occur and eventually forms the cancer. However, keep in mind, that not everyone with a mutated gene will acquire cancer. There really is no way to explain why some get it and some don’t. It’s one of the unfortunate life experiences that we may never fully understand. One thing that is for sure however is that people that smoke are at a much higher risk than those that do not smoke.