What Do We Know About Pancreatic Cancer

In the United States, cancer of the pancreas is diagnosed in more than twenty nine thousand people every year, with more than sixty thousand in Europe. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths. Living with a serious disease such as pancreatic cancer is not easy, some people may find coping with the emotional and practical aspects of their disease very difficult.

People living with pancreatic cancer may worry about the future. They may worry about caring for themselves or their families, keeping their jobs, or continuing daily activities. Concerns about treatments and managing side effects, hospital stays, and medical bills are also common. Other patients join support groups where family members get together to share what they have learned about coping with their disease and the effects of treatment. Knowing and learning more about what you're up against always eases the burden and helps prepare patients not only practically but physically and emotionally as well.

This illness, also called cancer of the pancreas is represented by the growth of a malignant tumor within the pancreatic gland. About seventy percent of pancreatic cancers occur in the head of the pancreas, and most of these begin in the ducts that carry the enzymes. Although the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not known, smoking is a major risk factor.

Research shows that cigarette smokers develop cancers of the pancreas three times more often than non-smokers. It has been called a "silent" disease because early pancreatic cancer usually does not cause symptoms. If the tumor blocks the common bile duct and bile cannot pass into the digestive system, the skin and whites of the eyes may become yellow, and the urine may become darker.

This condition is called jaundice. As the cancer grows and spreads, pain often develops in the upper abdomen and sometimes spreads to the back. The pain may become worse after the person eats or lies down. Cancer of the pancreas can also cause nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and weakness.

Treatment of the cancer depends on factors such as the type, size, and extent of the tumor as well as the patient's age and general health. Treatment of the disease is curable only when it is found in the earliest stages before it has spread, or it is difficult to cure. However, it can be treated, symptoms can be relieved, and the quality of the patient's life can be improved. Treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Biological therapy is also being studied by researchers to see whether it can be helpful in treating the disease.

Learning to live with the changes that can be brought about by cancer would be easier for patients and those who care about them when they have helpful information and support services. Patients can always seek the aid of local and national agencies that help with the emotional support, financial aid, transportation, or home care.

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