Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a disease when uncontrolled cells formed in the tissues of the pancreas with malignancy. The pancreas is a digestive juice producing gland found just behind the stomach and on the frontal part of the spine. Digestive juice and hormone produced in pancreas regulate blood sugar level. Cells named exocrine pancreas cell is responsible to produce digestive juice and cells named endocrine pancreas cell is responsible to produce the hormone. Pancreatic cancer mainly begins with the digestive juice producing exocrine cells.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Cancer is a special type of disease characterized by awry cells that don’t follow the normal checks and balances system prevailing in the body to control the growth of the new cells in the body. Pancreatic cancer happens when these awry cells start growing in the pancreas. These abnormal cells once formed continue multiplying in the tissue particularly exocrine cells forming lumps or masses of tissue named tumor. Tumors then intervene the major activities of the pancreas. Tumor staying at a particular point of the pancreas and demonstrating limited growth is generally considered as benign.

More dangerous rather malignant tumors form when cancer cells are sprayed through the lymphatic system to the different organs of the body. When cancer cells of the tumor grow and invade other organs destroying healthy tissues, it is said that metastasis has begun resulting a serious stage that is difficult to treat. Depending on the area where the cancer cells affect either exocrine or endocrine, classification of pancreatic cancer is made as under:

Cancer affecting exocrine pancreatic functions is:

  • Adenocarcinomas — it is typically found in the gland cells of the duct of the pancreas.
  • Adenosquamous carcinomas — it starts in squamous cells and giant cells.
  • Ampullary cancer — it begins at the ampulla of Vater, where the pancreatic duct and bile duct meet the duodenum of the small intestine.

Cancer affecting endocrine pancreatic functions is:

  • Neuroendocrine or islet cell tumors — it affects the endocrine function of the pancreas.

What are the causes of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer forms when abnormal cells in your pancreas develop mutations in their DNA. These mutation result cells to spread uncontrollably and to continue invading normal cells would die. Accumulation of these cells can form a tumor which spreads to other organs and blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer very often do not manifest until it reaches the advanced stage. That is why pancreatic cancer is called “silent” disease. However, when cancer develops, symptoms may include the following:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen generates from the tumor pushing against nerves.
  • Change of color of skin and eye to yellow and urine color also turns to yellow called jaundice can happen when cancer intervenes the liver and the bile duct.
  • Loss of appetite, vomiting, and nausea with significant weight loss and weakness persist for a long period.

What are treatments for pancreatic cancer?

Cancer treatment depends on the stage of cancer, health status, age and also on the diagnosis. If cancer is not metastasized, surgery is best option to eliminate entire pancreas and spleen. If cancer is detected at the early stage, a patient can be cured completely. Different type of surgery such as Whipple procedure, distal pancreatectomy, total pancreatectomy and palliative surgery is introduced to treat pancreatic cancer depending on the particular place where the cancerous tumor is located.


Authored By Dr G Parthasarathy - Surgical Gastroenterologist, Hyderabad