The Pancreas is a 6-inch long organ located behind the stomach in the back of the abdomen. It is spongy and shaped somewhat like a fish, extended horizontally across the abdomen.The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen where the stomach is attached to the first part of the small intestine. The tail of the pancreas – its narrowest part – extends to the left side of the abdomen next to the spleen.
Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells. Pancreatic cancer is often called a “silent” disease because it rarely shows early symptoms and presents non-specific later symptoms. Tumors of the pancreas cancers are usually too small to cause symptoms.
There are several types of Pancreatic Cancer, depending on whether the cancer begins in the exocrine or endocrine component.
Pancreatic cancer can result from a mutation in either the exocrine or endocrine function of the pancreas. Exocrine tumors are far more common, accounting for 95% of all cases. Adenocarcinoma is an exocrine tumor and is the most common kind of pancreatic cancer (80-90%). Adenocarcinoma arises from abnormal cells lining the pancreatic duct. These cells may form glands, or a collection of cells surrounding an empty space. Unless otherwise specified, nearly all accounts of pancreatic cancer refer to adenocarcinoma.
These are also called islet cell tumors or pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs). They are much less common than exocrine tumors, making up about 1% of pancreatic cancers. A pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor can be functioning, meaning it makes hormones, or nonfunctioning, meaning it doesn’t make hormones.
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:
Laparoscopy : The minimally invasive surgical techniques of laparoscopy are normally used directly before a scheduled pancreatic resection to determine if a more invasive operation is the best course of action. Since metastases can sometimes be missed on CT, MRI or other imaging studies, laparoscopy is a reliable way to check for metastasis to other organs. If metastases are found and the surgeon decides an operation is not the best course of action, then the patient will have a shorter recovery time compared to that of a major surgery and will be in better shape to receive alternate forms of treatment.
Chemotherapy : Chemotherapy uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be injected into a vein or taken orally. Chemotherapy can also be combined with radiation Therapy (chemoradiation). Chemoradiation is typically used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the pancreas, but only to nearby organs and not to distant regions of the body. This combination may also be used after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence of pancreatic cancer.
Radiation Therapy : It destroys cancer by focusing high-energy rays on the cancer cells. This causes damage to the molecules that make up the cancer cells and leads them to commit suicide. Unlike chemotherapy which is a systemic treatment, radiation therapy is a local treatment meant to destroy only tumor cells. During the treatment, a beam of radiation is directed through the abdomen to the cancerous area. The radiation is similar to that used for diagnostic X-rays, only in a higher dose.
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