Surgical removal of pancreatic cancer when there is no spread to other organs is the only chance of possible cure. Pancreatic surgery can be difficult, with some patients denied the chance of possible cure when surgery is performed by surgeons not experienced at complex pancreatic surgery. This is particularly the case with cancers arising in the uncinate process of the pancreas, adjacent to major blood vessels. Population studies from the USA show that high volume pancreatic surgeons regularly achieve better results than those performing fewer pancreatic operations, regardless of the level of experience. Dr Nikfarjam currently performs 25-30 pancreatic resections per annum.
Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — a large organ that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.
Pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, with surgery the only chance of cure in cases when there is no detectable cancer spread. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and is often detected at late stages, which is a major reason why it's a leading cause of cancer death. Signs and symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don't occur until the disease is advanced. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to your back
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in your pancreas develop genetic mutations. These mutations cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and to continue living after normal cells would die. These accumulating cells can form a tumour.
Understanding your pancreas
Your pancreas is about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and looks something like a pear lying on its side. The pancreas is a crucial part of your digestive system. It secretes hormones, including insulin, to help your body process sugar. And it produces digestive juices to help your body digest food.
Types of pancreatic cancer
The types of cells involved in a pancreatic cancer help determine the best treatment. Types of pancreatic cancer include:
- Cancer that forms in the pancreas ducts (adenocarcinoma). Cells that line the ducts of the pancreas help produce digestive juices. The majority of pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas. Sometimes these cancers are called exocrine tumours
- Cancer that forms in the hormone-producing cells. Cancer that forms in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas is called endocrine cancer. Endocrine cancers of the pancreas are very rare
Factors that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Personal or family history of chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Personal or family history of pancreatic cancer
- Family history of genetic syndromes that can increase cancer risk, including a BRCA2 gene mutation, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM)
- Older age. Pancreatic cancer occurs most often in older adults. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are in their 70s and 80s
- African American. Pancreatic cancer occurs more commonly in African Americans.
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