Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis And Treatment

The pancreas in an organ that lies deep within the stomach. It contains endocrine cells, which produce hormones (insulin, glucagon) and release them into the blood to control blood sugar levels. The exocrine cells release enzymes that assist with the digestion of foods. The pancreas is divided in four different sections; head, neck, body, and tail, which makes it easier to pinpoint the tumor’s exact location.

Getting Diagnosed

After a thorough physical examination and providing your physician with a medical history, you will be well on your way to getting a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Tumors, masses, and excessive fluid buildup near or surrounding the pancreas, gallbladder, and liver can be detected, during the physical exam, by abdominal palpation (using the fingers and hands to feel for abnormalities).

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin pigment and sclera), which is caused by an excessive buildup of bilirubin in the blood stream, may be present. The lymph nodes will also be palpated for signs of tumors or masses, which could be a sign of metastasis. Your physician will follow up with diagnostic testing including:
– Computed Tomography of the Pancreas with or without Contrast
– Computed Tomography Guided Pancreatic Biopsy
– Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Magnetic Resonance
– Cholangiopancreatography Transabdominal Ultrasound (Pancreas, Nearby Organs)
– Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (Bile Ducts)
– Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography (Pancreatic Duct)
– Positron Emission Tomography

Treatment

The proper treatment is going to depend on the stage of the pancreatic cancer. If you are in the first and second stage, you may be eligible for surgery, then followed up with chemotherapy or chemoradiation. Your best chance of survival is going to be if the cancer has not metastasized to the nearby and distant organs, tissues, lymph nodes, and major blood vessels. Surgery will be ruled out as a treatment if the cancer is in the third and fourth stages. Palliative care will be ordered, with potential stent placement to bypass blockages in the small intestines and ducts. Chemotherapy may also be ordered in these final stages to help potentially reduce the tumor size, which will also assist in alleviating the pain associated with pancreatic cancer.

Signs & Symptoms

– Clay Colored Stools

– Jaundice

– Discolored Urine
– Fatigue
– Unexplained Weight Loss
– Pain in the Upper Right and Left Quadrant
– Back Pain

– Risk Factors

– Smoker
– Pancreatic Cancer may be Hereditary (Familial Pancreatic Cancer)
– Obesity
– History Of Pancreatitis usually beginning in early Adolescence
– African American Descent
– Diabetes
– Genetic Factors (Trypsinogen Gene)

Gene testing is now available for hereditary pancreatitis (John Hopkin’s Cancer Center).