Pancreatic diseases affect thousands of people each year and pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Catching this disease early, especially when the cancer is still treatable, is essential.
What Does the Pancreas Do, and Why Is It So Difficult to Examine?
Wedged between the stomach and spine in the upper abdomen, the pancreas performs two essential job. It creates enzymes that break down food so it can be digested and it generates essential hormones such as insulin. Its embedded location makes it difficult for doctors to manually examine and feel the organ to determine if it’s swollen or inflamed. Blood tests can help, but they may also be misleading. The best way to assess the health of the pancreas include CAT (computed tomography) scans, endoscopic ultrasounds, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and even operating to view the organ. But first, patients and doctors have to know that something is wrong.
What Can Go Wrong and What Are the Symptoms?
There are a number of problems that can affect the pancreas, many of them cause enough pain and discomfort to be noticed quickly. -Acute pancreatitis is a sudden attack that causes severe abdominal pain, as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating and fever, according to The National Pancreas Foundation. This can be caused by gallstones, alcohol abuse, and other conditions and it usually goes away after treatment. -Chronic pancreatitis mimics many of acute pancreatitis’ symptoms, especially pain and diarrhea, but this disease lingers and is usually caused by alcohol abuse, cystic fibrosis or other genetic causes. It often strikes men in their 30s and 40s. -Hereditary pancreatitis is an inherited abnormality in the pancreas and often results from cystic fibrosis. As with acute and chronic pancreatitis, patients develop abdominal pain, diarrhea, malnutrition, or diabetes. -Unlike other pancreatic disorders, cancer in the pancreas is subtle in its early stages. The first sign is often jaundice—the yellowing of skin or the whites of the eye—with no accompanying pain. If caught early, pancreatic cancer can be removed surgically, but catching it early is challenging.
What Are Pancreatic Cancer's Early Signs?
Here are some other symptoms, in addition to jaundice, nausea and abdominal pain, that indicate the presence of pancreatic diseases, including cancer. These symptoms should be immediately reported to a doctor. -Unexplained weight loss -Itching, which results from the build-up of acids the pancreas is no longer able to remove -Other digestive problems
Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, but here are some risk factors that may increase the chance pancreatic cancer will occur. -Genetics plays a role: If a family member has had pancreatic cancer, hereditary pancreatitis or has the breast cancer gene BRAC2, the risk increases. -Gender and ethnicity: Men are at higher risk, especially if they are 65 or older. African-American men and women are also at higher risk. -Lifestyle matters. People who drink nine or more alcoholic drinks each day are at higher risk as are smokers. Obesity, diabetes and diets high in animal fats and low in fruits and vegetables also increase pancreatic cancer risk.