Information on Pancreatic Cancer

By: samnickel2

Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare disorder, accounting for about 3 in 100 cases of all cancer in the US. However, the disease, which mainly affects people over 50, is becoming more common in the US as life expectancy increases. Pancreatic cancer occurs almost twice as frequently in men as in women and the disease is slightly more common in African-Americans and Polynesians.

The pancreas is a spongy, tube-shaped organ about 6 inches long. It is located in the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen. It is connected to the duodenum, the upper end of the small intestine. The narrow end of the pancreas, called the tail, extends to the left side of the body.

The pancreas is a gland about five inches long located behind the stomach. It is surrounded by the liver, gallbladder, and small intestine. The pancreas has two main functions. One is to produce digestive fluids needed to neutralize stomach acids and break down food. The second is to produce hormones, such as insulin, that are needed to metabolize sugar. Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal (cancerous) cells grow in the tissues of the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer is the seventh leading cause of cancer in the U.S., and the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society estimated that 33,730 new cases of pancreatic cancer would have been reported in the U.S. in 2006. Although the rates of pancreatic cancer have declined in men over the past 20 years, the rates in women have remained constant. Nonetheless, pancreatic cancer most commonly affects males, occurring most often in people over the age of 45.

The Facts on Pancreatic Cancer

About one in 79 people will develop pancreatic cancer (cancer of the pancreas) over their lifetime. In North America in 2007, pancreatic cancer was responsible for the fourth highest number of deaths among cancer deaths. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is about the same for both men and women. Pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a silent disease because it is difficult to detect and symptoms do not usually appear until the cancer has grown for quite some time.

This cancer is difficult to diagnose because there are no symptoms in the early stages and because , when symptoms appear, they match other diseases. Depending on the stage and location of the cancer, surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be used. If the cancer has not spread beyond the pancreas, therapy can be successful, but, as stated earlier, it's very unlikely to find pancreatic cancer in the early stages. In later stages, often the therapy concentrates on the comfort of the patient.

Complete resection is the only effective treatment of pancreatic ductal carcinoma. Regrettably, such curative operations are possible in less than 15 percent of patients and are limited, for all practical purposes, to those individuals with tumors in the pancreatic head that have caused jaundice leading to an earlier diagnosis. Tumor spread to other sites in the abdomen such as the lining of the abdominal cavity ("peritoneum"), liver, or to the lungs is a contraindication to major surgery.

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