The pancreas is a dual functioning gland of the digestive system made up of two types of cells: one produces digestive juices and the other releases hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels. The abnormal growth of pancreatic cells can lead to pancreatic cancer.
Most pancreatic cancers are formed in the cells that produce digestive enzymes, causing yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), upper and middle abdominal pain, back pain, unexplained weight loss, appetite loss, fatigue, dark coloured urine and light coloured stools. You are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer if you are a smoker, overweight, have diabetes, or have family history of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history and performing a thorough physical examination. Your doctor may order blood tests and other imaging tests such as MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, endoscopic ultrasound, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTC). Your doctor may also perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer cells completely. However, if the cancer is in advanced stages and has spread to other parts of the body, treatment involves managing symptoms for the best quality of life.