Pancreatic Cancer Treatment - Signs, Symptoms, Treatment

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Details

The pancreas is a gland that is located in the abdomen below stomach. It helps in the process of digestion by secreting pancreatic juice and also helps in regulating blood glucose levels. Pancreatic cancer refers to cancer affecting the pancreas, the cancer in pancreas could be benign (does not spread) or malignant (spreading) in nature. Depending upon the diagnosis your doctor will suggest the best option for you to treat the disease.

The pancreas has important functions in our body, it helps in digestion by secreting pancreatic juice and assist in regulating blood glucose levels as well.  Pancreatic cancer hampers both these functions. Pancreatic cancer does not cause much signs and symptoms; when you do get symptoms, they are often vague or you may not notice them. This makes it hard to diagnose cancer at an early stage. However, once you have been diagnosed with the problem, your doctor will assess your current health situation and will learn more about your previous illness as well. After a thorough examination and evaluation, your doctor will choose between surgery, radiation or chemotherapy or a combination of one or more to help you recover fast.

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Before Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

To diagnose pancreatic cancer, certain diagnostic tests will be done to find the stage and cause of it. Moreover, your doctor may ask about your medical history to know more about your symptoms and other possible risk factors. Since pancreatic cancer does not cause much signs and symptoms at early stage, later stages cause symptoms like weight loss, loss of appetite, belly or back pain, liver enlargement, etc. The recommended tests are abdominal ultrasound, Endoscopic ultrasound, MRI, biopsy, PET scan, blood tests, etc.

How it is performed

If you’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, then different treatment options will be discussed with you depending on the type and stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment options for people with pancreatic cancer can include: 

  • Surgery: Surgery is done to remove the affected part of the pancreas. If a cancer has not metastasized (spread), it is possible to completely cure a patient by surgically removing the cancer from the body. Different surgical procedures are:  
  1. Whipple procedure (most common in cancers of the head of the pancreas): The pancreas head and sometimes the entire organ is removed along with a portion of the stomach, lymph nodes, and other tissue. The procedure is complex and risky with complications such as infections, bleeding, and stomach problems.
  2. Distal pancreatectomy: The tail of pancreas is removed, and sometimes part of the main organ along with the spleen. This procedure is usually used to treat islet cell or neuroendocrine tumours.
  3. Total pancreatectomy: The entire pancreas is removed. Although you can live without a pancreas, but you will be diabetic for life long as your body no longer produces insulin.
  • Radidiation: Radiation treatment, also known as radiotherapy, destroys cancerous cells by focusing high-energy rays on the cancer cells. This causes damage to the molecules that make up the cancer cells. Radiotherapy can be used as a standalone treatment to shrink a tumour or destroy cancer cells, and it is also used in combination with other cancer treatments. Radiation treatments for pancreatic cancer are usually given 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks.  Chemotherapy:  Chemotherapy is generally used to treat cancer that has spread or metastasized. Chemotherapy uses specially designed drugs which are delivered into the body through various means, the drug has the potential to identify the cancerous cells and to isolate the non-cancerous cells, and this is made possible because the medicines travel throughout the body. Treatment occurs in cycles so the body has time to heal between doses. This is also done after the surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence of pancreatic cancer.
  • Chemotherapy:  Chemotherapy is generally used to treat cancer that has spread or metastasized. Chemotherapy uses specially designed drugs which are delivered into the body through various means, the drug has the potential to identify the cancerous cells and to isolate the non-cancerous cells, and this is made possible because the medicines travel throughout the body. Treatment occurs in cycles so the body has time to heal between doses. This is also done after the surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence of pancreatic cancer.

Recovery

Pancreatic cancer has some common side effects like hair loss, nausea, fatigue, etc. The patient may become weak and feel pain in the treated area, which will heal and recover with time. After the treatment you will have your follow-up appointments. Where the doctor will see how you are recovering. During these visits, your doctors will try to learn more about any discomforts that you might be facing. It is paramount to follow the instructions of your doctor and stick to the advised diet and regime.

Potential Risks

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment is an invasive procedure, so there are chances of wound infections, excessive bleeding or other complications in the treatment area. 

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