What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic Cancer is cancer of an organ in the human body called the pancreas, which is located behind the lower part of the stomach. The function of this organ is to secrete certain essential enzymes to digest food and also secrete hormones to metabolize sugars such as insulin and glucagon (Mayoclinic). People get pancreatic cancer when the cells of the pancreas develop genetic mutations; and these can form in both the exocrine and endocrine cells of the pancreas, but exocrine tumors are more common than endocrine tumors. Because this cancer spreads very quickly throughout the body and the symptoms of the disease don’t usually appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage, it is a leading cause of death compared to other cancers. In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of death with approximately 46,420 Americans diagnosed with the disease and over 39,590 dying from it (Source: American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts & Figures 2014).
What are some signs of Pancreatic Cancer? What are the morbidity and mortality rates?
Signs of pancreatic cancer include pain in the upper abdomen that can penetrate all the way to the back of the neck, blood clots, weight loss, depression, loss of appetite, or jaundice (Mayoclinic). There are 4 stages of pancreatic cancer, usually indicated with Roman Numerals (I-IV); the smallest number indicates the earliest stage of the cancer and the less it has spread. Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates, with “94% of patients diagnosed dying within five years of diagnosis while only 6% surviving for longer than five years and 74% of patients dying within the first year of being diagnosed (American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts & Figures 2014).” According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate “for all four stages of pancreatic cancer per year is approximately 20% while the five-year rate is 6%.” The reason the survival rate is so low is because in most cases, the cancer has spread so far throughout the body that surgically removing the tumor becomes impossible. When the tumor can be removed surgically, “the average survival rate is 18 to 20 months, and the overall five-year survival rate is about 10%.” If the tumor can be completely removed by surgery, the percentage can be “as high as 20% to 25% (American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts & Figures 2014).”
Pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasias (PanINs) show progressive stages of neoplastic growth that are precursors to pancreatic adenocarcinomas. The onset of Normal duct, PanIN-1A/PanIN-1B and PanIN-3 lesions are reproduced above. Figure taken from Nature Reviews Cancer 2, 897-909 (December 2002) | doi:10.1038/nrc949
What are some risk factors and treatments for Pancreatic Cancer?
There are not many defined risk factors known for pancreatic cancer. Some risk factors are “family history of the disease, smoking, age, and diabetes (Mayoclinic).” Ideally, pancreatic cancer cells can...