Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms Deadly

Posted by Zotta Rendevouz

The pancreas secretes hormones and enzymes to digest the fats we need. One of these hormones is insulin, which tells the body fat instead of glucose for energy. Its levels are low in patients with diabetes who suffer from abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood.

Only a fifth of Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive for the whole year, according to the American Cancer Society, and is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the country.

How the disease developed without apparent symptoms, and then kill so quickly?

To find out, we asked Allyson Ocean, an oncologist in New York-Presbyterian Hospital / Weill Cornell Medical Center, specializing in gastrointestinal cancers, including pancreatic cancer. Edited transcript follows.

Why kill pancreatic cancer so fast?

Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage because it does not cause symptoms until it is too late. Weight loss, abdominal pain, jaundice [yellowing of the skin caused by the accumulation of toxins in the liver], they are the most common symptoms. They usually start after the tumor has a considerable size. At that time, chances are, it spread [ie, the spread to other parts of the body].

Only about 10-15 percent of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed when they may consider surgery. And the prognosis is poor even in patients who have surgery, because it returns about 85 percent of the time. At best, 25-30 percent of patients are alive five years after surgery.

When doctors do surgery for pancreatic cancer, they released 95 percent of the pancreas including the tumor and leave a small remnant of the pancreas in there that is [insulin-producing] functions.

If a person can live without a pancreas fully functional, so what kills most patients eventually pancreatic cancer?

When most patients die of pancreatic cancer, they die of liver failure in their lives are supported by the tumor.

What prevents doctors to perform surgery in late-stage patients?

We do not do surgery if the tumor has already spread outside the pancreas, because there is no survival advantage to remove the tumor. We sometimes can not do surgery [when the tumor] involves the major blood vessels, the superior mesenteric vein and superior mesenteric artery. They are the largest vessels coming out of the aorta, the main artery of our body. If the tumor is wrapped around the blood vessels so that we can not get out.

Why this particular type of cancer so aggressive?

Due to the nature of the tumor cells. Treatment escape, hide, and then return. And still grow and affect the liver, and then kill people.

What are the main risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

Known risk factors are smoking, family history, may be a hereditary disease. Then there are some other risk factors more obscure, like the anatomy of the pancreas defects, but it is very rare.

What factors affect how a person can be diagnosed early?

Depending on where the cancer is diagnosed in the pancreas, which can affect how quickly it is diagnosed. For example, if the cancer is at the head of the pancreas, which is close to the bile duct, and grows and causes obstruction of the bile duct, a patient may become jaundiced. And then they could [show symptoms] sooner than a person whose pancreatic cancer is in another part of the pancreas, like the tail. Not present with jaundice, so we have no idea that was not necessarily something wrong with them.

What are the main symptoms, such as cancer progresses?

Unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting. Back pain is different, because the pancreas is very rear of the body. Back pain is the most common complaint that patients go to emergency, and mostly it's just muscle pain, it's not pancreatic cancer.

What treatments are available, if surgery is not an option?

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Sometimes they do both. Now also the use of biological agents, which means that the antibody therapy. There is a drug called Tarceva, which is an antibody [or immune protein] against the growth factor that causes tumor cell and by blocking the growth signal. It is administered in combination with [chemotherapy called] gemcitabine. In a large randomized clinical trial, [the combination of two drugs] has shown to improve with gemcitabine alone.