Pancreatic cancer is not as common as the other forms of cancer. It is considered as the deadliest form due to its rapid growth and thus often undiagnosed till at the later stages and few treatment available options.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death overall, only in U.S. In estimation, nearly 38,000 Americans were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during 2008, and only four thousand manage to survive.
Anatomy of pancreas
The pancreas is important organ situated beneath the stomach adjacent to the duodenum. The pancreas consists of collections of glands, which perform their specific function. Functionally pancreas can be divided into the parts:
- Exocrine part
- Endocrine part
The glands in exocrine part secrete their enzymes into duodenum through a duct. The enzymatic action of these secretions digest the food as it moves through the intestines.
The glands of endocrine part secrete hormones, which include insulin, into the blood circulation. Insulin assists rest of the body in the process metabolizing sugar as an energy source. Insulin also maintains the sugar level in the blood.
Anatomically, we can divide pancreas into four sections:
- Head – part adjacent to the duodenum
- Uncinate process – extension
- Body – major and central portion
- Tail – end part, adjacent to the spleen
The most widespread form of pancreatic cancer arises from the exocrine part and is commonly known as adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. The endocrine glands produce other type of cancer that is known as islet cell tumor.
Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the most aggressive cancers of all times. In most of the cases, when cancer is diagnosed, disease has already been reached to the late stages. It is also hard to cure pancreatic cancer through medical treatment, and surgery in only the possible way to cure it. The great number of deaths occurs in 2008; reflect the difficulties in treating pancreatic cancer.
The known risk factors for pancreatic adenocarcinoma include the following:
- Smoking and excessive alcohol intake (Chronic pancreatitis)
- Advanced age
- Male sex
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Hereditary factor of pancreatic cancer
The following are the main symptoms of pancreatic cancer may be suffered by the patients:
- Abdominal or back pain
- Rapid weight loss (caused by anorexia, bloating and diarrhea)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are generally very similar to the less serious diseases that make it hard to diagnose. This lack of unique symptoms expresses the fact, why the pancreatic cancer remains undiscovered till the advance stage.
Preventative measures for pancreatic cancer is still unknown however, cutting down certain risk factors may minimize the chances of occurrence. Risk factors that can be controlled include, quit smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
The treatment option of pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of the disease. Specific treatment for the cancer can be divided into the following 3 categories:
- Localized: if only pancreas is affected.
- Locally advanced: if cancer has involved nearby blood vessels or viscera.
- Metastatic: if cancer has spread outside to other body.
The surgical procedure for pancreatic adenocarcinoma is known as a Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy). This procedure is still effective for surgically treating pancreatic cancer. This procedure involves the removing of malignant part of the pancreas and altering the route of pancreatic and bile duct.
Liposomes equipped and combined with molecular tools to kill tumor cells, have been offered as a new nanomedical treatment for pancreatic cancer. The therapy consists of intravenous injections of liposomes, which contain a gene known to kill only cancer cells, a promoter, and other chemicals. The treatment has destroyed pancreatic tumors calls in mice effectively, in pre-clinical tests, without damaging the healthy tissues.