Much like prostate cancer, if you can’t treat pancreatic surgically, you often cannot cure the patient. So developing a test to detect pancreatic cancer early has been on the forefront of the minds of researchers. There is currently a blood test marker called CA-19-9; however, it is not yet effective enough to cure patients and decrease the amount of deaths per year. The CA-19-9 tumor marker has been around for years, and 80 percent of pancreatic cancer patients have this marker.
Where is the pancreas? The pancreas is a 6-inch organ located under the stomach. It is a very unique organ from a doctor’s perspective in the sense that it’s hard to get to and therefore hard to examine. The pancreas is an organ that works “double duty;” one side makes insulin and the other side makes digestive hormones that have the potential to eventually become cancerous.
The treatment of choice is often laparoscopic surgery at the hands of an experienced surgeon. Radiation and chemotherapy are often the second round of treatment after surgery to help kill any remaining cancer cells in the body.
Who is at risk? Men over the age of 45 with a family history of pancreatic cancer are at an increased risk for the disease and should speak with their doctor to be screened.
Other risk factors include:
Surgery : Surgery may be used to remove all or part of the pancreas. If a cancer has not metastasized, it is possible to completely cure a patient by surgically removing the cancer from the body. There are three main surgical procedures that are used when it seems possible to remove all of the cancer:
- Whipple Procedure : The Pancreas head, and sometimes the entire organ, is removed along with a portion of the stomach, duodenum, lymph nodes, and other tissue. The procedure is complex and risky with complications such as leaking, infections, bleeding, and stomach problems.
- Distal Pancreatectomy : A Distal Pancreatectomy is where the bottom half of the pancreas is removed by a surgical procedure. The most frequent reason for performing a distal pancreatectomy is the presence of a tumor in the body or tail of the pancreas.
- Central Pancreatectomy : In a Central Pancreatectomy, a tumor in the neck or body of the pancreas is removed while preserving the healthy head and tail of the pancreas.
- Total Pancreatectomy : In a Total Pancreatectomy, the entire pancreas is removed. Similar to a Whipple procedure, a portion of the stomach, duodenum, gallbladder, and local lymph nodes are also removed. The spleen may be removed as well. This procedure is used when malignant cells have invaded most of the pancreatic tissue.
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