Pancreatic Cancer

  • Overview

  • Symptoms

  • Diagnosis

  • Treatment

Overview

Pancreas is a small gland situated in the abdomen which produces hormones and insuline. Pancreatic cancer can spread to nearby organs such as the intestines, stomach, liver and the bile duct. However, cancer of the pancreas is relatively uncommon.

Early Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer rarely manifests symptoms in the early stages. Hence, its usually detected only after it has metastasized to other organs. You may also have precancerous lesions, which can be removed surgically. As the cancer evolves, patients may experience the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the back and upper abdomen
  • Weight loss and a burning sensation in the stomach
  • Inability to digest fats, resulting in greasy stools.
  • Jaundice and itchiness when the tumour obstructs the common bile duct
  • Enlarged gallbladder
  • Type 2 diabetes

Many of the above are also caused due to other health problems. If you experience these symptoms consult a doctor immediately to get an early diagnosis or rule out cancer.

Diagnosis

The diagnostic procedure includes determining the size of the tumour. The extent to which it has spread to other areas helps determine the stage of the disease. Diagnosis involves the following procedures:

  • Medical History
  • Physical Examination
  • Blood Tests
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Biopsy

Treatment

Surgery: It is the best way to eliminate the cancer or extend life. However, it can be a complex operation and it is not recommended unless the patient can derive substantial benefit.

  • Whipple Procedure: Also called a pancreatoduodenectomy, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas, surrounding lymph nodes, parts of the bile duct, small intestine, gallbladder and sometimes part of the stomach. The remaining parts of the organs are then joined to the small intestine to facilitate digestion.
  • Distal Pancreatectomy: If the tumour is localized in the tail of the pancreas, the surgeon removes it, sometimes with a part of the organ along with the spleen.
  • Total Pancreatectomy: If the cancer has spread throughout the pancreas and surrounding areas, the surgeon may remove the whole organ along with parts of the neighbouring organs like in the Whipple procedure.
  • Central Pancreatectomy: If the tumour is benign, just the middle part of the pancreas is removed and the remaining part of the organ attached to the stomach or small intestine.

Minimally Invasive Procedures: Laparoscopic surgery and robot-assisted laparoscopy are options for patients who do not need extensive surgery.

Chemotherapy: Can be given before and after surgery, often as a day care procedure.