The pancreas are a small gland situated near the stomach that secretes digestive fluid into the intestines through one or more ducts and also secretes insulin – a hormone which regulates the amount of glucose in blood. Pancreas are responsible for secreting enzyme which aid in digestion,
Pancreatic problems are usually hard to detect and one of the most dangerous pancreatic problems is pancreatic cancer.
Unfortunately pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose as it gives few early signs and most patients already reach an advance stage before being diagnosed.
Post prognosis, due to detection at an advanced stage when the cancer is in metastasis, the 5 year survival rate is 1%. Compare this to a 5 year survival rate for patients when diagnosed early with the cancer in a resectable stage( when surgery can be done) , at a whopping 61% . Therefore early diagnosis is critical in pancreatic cancer.
Even if there are few early signs, self awareness is often the key to diagnosis.
Given below are a few warning signs which indicate that your pancreas may be in trouble :
Sudden Onset of Diabetes : Diabetes and Pancreas have a direct relationship. Pancreas contain cells called the Islets of Langerhans which secrete the hormone insulin. Insulin helps regulate the glucose in the body. If you have sudden onset of Type 2 diabetes, do visit the doctor.
If you existing diabetes,which suddenly becomes unmanageable it warrants a visit to the doctor as instability in blood sugar levels can also be an early sign of pancreatic cancer
Light coloured, Floaty Stools, with or without an oil layer : Pancreas our responsible for secreting enzymes, which help in digestion. When optimum functioning is affected, sometimes there is an oil layer on top which indicates fats not digested properly. Because the pancreas help the intestines break down fats with the help of enzymes which does not take place,it leads to stools become greasy.
Light coloured, floaty stools also indicate sub optimal digestion which happens when the pancreas become affected.
Dark Coloured Urine : Pancreatic cancer usually begins near the top of the bile duct. Since the bile duct is unable to drain the bilirubin produced in the liver, it results in dark coloured urine. As the cancer spreads, it affects the liver and results in liver cancer. Pancreatic cancer led to the liver being affected for Steve Jobs and a liver transplant was carried out which gave him a new lease of life for a few years.
Stomach Ache : Abdominal pain especially pain in the middle of the abdomen is also a sign of pancreatic cancer. The cancer starts presses on surrounding organs causing pain. If pain is intense and persists for weeks, does not wear off even after prescription medication, do ask your doctor to check your pancreas.
Weight Loss : It is a common sign of pancreatic cancer – it usually occurs because the pancreas do not secrete enough enzymes to digest food so nutrients are not absorbed normally.
Though there are several other reasons for weight loss, sudden, progressive weight loss coupled with intense pain in the abdomen does call for a visit to the doctor.
Poor Appetite : Nausea and lack of appetite can be directly linked to problems in the pancreas. The pancreas are responsible for the secretion of enzymes which break down the fats in the digested food and hence, if your body is unable to digest fatty foods, it may be a sign of trouble with the pancreas.
Usually a ultrasound, CT Scan, endoscopy or an endoscopic biopsy are the initial diagnostic tests.
A PET CT along with cancer markers is used for cancer staging.
If diagnosed early, while the cancer is resectable, a procedure called Whipple is carried out to remove the cancerous part and whipple procedure is followed by chemotherapy and or radiation depending upon spread.
Sometime, TACE ( trans arterial chemo embolisation, TARE ( Trans arterial radio embolisation) or TAE ( trans arterial embolisation) may also need to be used depending upon the type of cancer and cancer staging.
At times RFA( radio frequency ablation) or cryoablation may also be used to treat the cancer.
It is important to take a 2nd opinion, while you have time in hand to know that you are getting the right medical treatment based on the your prognosis.
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