What to look for
Like most cancers,
pancreatic cancer usually produces no symptoms until it is advanced. Symptoms that may
arise are -
weight loss with
abdominal pain - these are the common signs.
diarrhoea, constipation, gas pains, bloating, or belching.
nausea, vomiting, loss of
sudden onset of diabetes.
black or bloody stool.
The pancreas has two vital
functions - it supplies the intestines with digestive juices, and it secretes hormones.
One of these being insulin, which regulates the body's use of sugars and starches.
Endocrine cells in the pancreas regulate hormones; they form clusters and are located in
the tail and body sections of the gland. Exocrine cells, which are more prolific, are
spread throughout the gland and help digestion.
Most pancreatic cancers
start in the exocrine cells. Endocrine cell cancers are spread slower and are usually able
to be treated easily. Unfortunately, early cancers are often misdiagnosed as simple
digestive complaints, allowing the cancer to spread to nearby tissues and other organs and
eventually into the bloodstream.
Like many other cancers,
pancreatic cancer is characteristically a disease of the elderly.
The main risk factors are -
smoking is the main risk
factor for pancreatic cancer; a smoker is three times more likely than a non smoker to
acquire the disease.
exposure to certain
petroleum products may also increase risk.
Excessive dietary fat and
protein may promote the disease.
is also linked to pancreatic cancer.
and multiple endocrine
See Cancer for more
information about the treatments mentioned below.
Because most cases of
pancreatic cancer are advanced when diagnosed, cure is rarely a realistic goal.
Treatment usually aims to
extend survival and relieve uncomfortable symptoms. Surgery is only an option if the
cancer has not spread beyond the pancreas.
Other options for patients
are radiation or chemotherapy treatments, and medication to help control the pain.
There are ways to learn to
control pain and this is where the alternative therapies may help. Besides taking
prescription medication, patients can try pain control through massage, acupuncture, as
well as relaxation techniques.
When to seek further