Although pancreatic cancer is uncommon, it is the 8th most frequent cause of cancer deaths in India and one of the top 10 most deadly cancers worldwide. There are several types of pancreatic cancers, with the majority affecting the area of the pancreas that produces enzymes. This is known as pancreatic ductal carcinoma. The pancreas also has hormone making cells (for example islet cells produce insulin). Cancers can arise in these cells and are known as neuroendocrine tumours (NET). This article covers the more common pancreatic ductal carcinoma.
- Diabetes mellitus
- Increased intake of sugary drinks
- Chronic pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas
A strong history of cancer in the family, including a history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, colon cancer, gastric cancer, may be linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer
through the genes.
Signs and Symptoms
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin
- Back pain
- Stomach pain
- Loss of weight
- Frequent diarrhoea
The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer
is made by initial imaging with a CT or MRI scan. This is followed by a biopsy of the tumour by a pancreatic cancer specialist or cancer treatment team. A raised tumour marker
, usually CA 19-9, may aid in the diagnosis and treatment follow up.
Early pancreatic cancer may be cured with surgery. Expertise in managing pancreatic cancer in a pancreatic specialist team is important. Review of imaging done, often with MRI, in consultation with experienced hepatobiliary surgeon, radiologist, medical oncologist
helps to plan the optimal approach.
In general, only 15% to 20% of patients are able to be operated when they are diagnosed, owing to the very silent and aggressive nature of this cancer. However, with just surgery alone
, the vast majority of patients suffer a relapse. Chemotherapy
given before or after surgery has been proven to reduce the relapse risk, and increases the chances of cure.
Advanced pancreatic cancer
is generally treated with palliative chemotherapy. With the approval and availability of new chemotherapy agents, the average survival of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer
has doubled over this decade with appropriate treatment. Chemotherapy
has been also shown to reduce and provide symptom relief.
The drugs that may be used include 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), Oxaliplatin, Leucovorin (folinic acid), Irinotecan, Gemcitabine, nab-Paclitaxel (Abraxane), Cisplatin, and Capecitabine (Xeloda).