Monday, April 11, 2011

Pancreatic Cancer Overview

Each year, about 37,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. About one in 76 people in the U.S. will develop the disease. Pancreatic cancer affects about equal numbers of men and women, almost always after the age of 45.

Cancer of the pancreas barely makes the top 10 most common cancers in the U.S. However, pancreatic cancer's tendency to spread silently before diagnosis makes it the fourth deadliest cancer diagnosis. Yes, the biggest problem with this type of the disease is a fact that tumor or cancer in the pancreas may often grow without any substantial symptoms at first, or even with no symptoms at all.

Therefore, pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed early. It 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 surgical removal isn't possible. Still, if pancreatic cancer is caught early, the tumor may be removed by surgery and the disease may be controlled.

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of the pancreas — an organ in the abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of the stomach. The pancreas is a gland that serves two basic functions – exocrine and endocrine:
  • The exocrine function makes chemicals that break down protein, and it delivers these chemicals right into the digestive tract. Most of the pancreas is devoted to this function, and tumors are more likely located here.
  • A smaller part of the pancreas is devoted to the endocrine function, which makes insulin and glucagon. The pancreas puts insulin and glucagon directly into your bloodstream to help your body burn or store sugar. Cancers in this area are very rare.

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The pancreas is about six inches long, it is wide at the head, and narrow at the tail. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the head of the pancreas, in the ducts that carry the digestive juices.

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While the disease does not show any symptoms in its early stages the signs or symptoms shown in the later stage resemble much with the jaundice. This behavior is because the tumor blocks the bile duct and thus the bile cannot pass into the digestive system, also the bile pigment called bilirubin gets accumulated in the urine.

Catching up the early warning signs for pancreatic cancer might be a challenging task, as it was mentioned above. Therefore, stronger attention should be placed on the risk factors and methods of disease prevention, especially if you have already the certain predisposition for the disease due to the age, family history, and genetic factors.

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