The pancreas is one of the vital organs in the body charged with the function to produce some of the most important hormones in the body such as glucagon and insulin and other pancreatic secretions.
What is pancreatic cancer? How do I know if I have it? Pancreatic cancer is cancer that forms in the pancreas. It may either originate from the pancreas or spread from primary sites (primary metastatic cancers) to the pancreas (in this case as a secondary metastatic cancer). The most common form of pancreatic cancer is ductal adenocarcinoma.
According to statistics, about 8,000 people are diagnosed of pancreatic cancer in UK yearly. Tobacco smoking has been reported to be the major cause of pancreatic cancer as about 30% of all cases were caused by smoking.
Pancreatic cancer symptoms can easily be confused with other diseases such as pancreatitis as it is inflammation of the pancreas.
From several studies, red and processed meat (which includes hamburgers, sausages) has been linked to high incidences of pancreatic cancer. Other risk factors are:
1. High dietary fat and sugary foods, low dietary fiber such as fruits and vegetables
3. Sedentary life style
4. Age (older adults above 70 years) are mostly affected
5. Drinking alcohol
One of the first signs of pancreatic cancer is jaundice, a medical condition caused by biliary obstruction caused by pancreatic tumor. Pancreatic cancer symptoms may not show up for a long time, while some people may experience just one symptom, but overtime they show up as it spreads.
Pancreatic cancer symptoms are similar to many other diseases’ such as upper gastrointestinal tract disorders.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer
The following are symptoms of pancreatic cancer:
1. Unexplained weight loss
Pancreatic cancer affects a lot of organs in the body especially when it spreads to secondary sites, however, the tumor impacts fat emulsification negatively, nutrient absorption becomes affected, and this may lead to persistent weight loss.
2. Pain in the upper abdomen
When pancreatic tumor pushes against, or invading nerves or organs located near the pancreas it may result in upper abdominal pain.
3. Darkened urine
When the level of bilirubin in the blood increases due to blockage of the bile duct, it turns the color of urine to brown, the longer it builds the darker the urine becomes.
4. Nausea and vomiting
Pancreatic cancer may press on the far end of the stomach and block it partially thus making it hard for food to get through. This may cause nausea, vomiting which may occasionally be accompanied with pain that gets worse after eating.
5. Loss of appetite
Pancreatic cancer may produce secretions which ‘fakes’ hormonal regulation in the body, this could lead to variety of symptoms part of which is loss of appetite and weight loss.
6. Recurrent fatigue and feeling of tiredness
Insulinomas produce insulin which lowers blood glucose level which leads to recurrent fatigue and tiredness.
7. Abdominal pain and cramps
This cancer produces gastrin (resulting in a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome) a hormone that signals production of more hydrochloric acid which may lead to ulcers. Bleeding from this may lead to abdominal pain.
Vipomas one of the subtypes do produce vaso-active pancreatic polypeptides which may lead to diarrhea that gets worse over time.
Another one of the signs of pancreatic cancer that should not be overlooked is diabetes and hypoglycemia. Insulinomas, a sub-type of neuro-endocrine tumors produces insulin, which leads to hypoglycemia. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may be managed and treated symptomatically pending successful diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and staging.