Types of Cancer
The pancreas is a gland located in between the spine and the stomach within the abdomen. It is made of two major parts: the exocrine, and the endocrine. The exocrine creates enzymes that work to aid in the digestion of food in the stomach. The endocrine creates cells that help the production of hormones, specifically insulin – the control centre of the sugar in the blood. The endocrine also produces other hormones including glucagon, pancreatic polypeptide, vasoactive intestinal peptide and somatostatin, all of which are essential in maintaining the body’s metabolism. When healthy cells that help to maintain each part of the pancreas grow out of control and are unable to work as they should, they develop the ability to create a tumour. This is how the disease pancreatic cancer occurs.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
The type of pancreatic cancer that a person may have depends on the location of the original tumour – within the exocrine or the endocrine component.
Exocrine tumours are the most commonly occurring pancreatic cancer. While there are different types of exocrine tumours, the most commonly occurring tumour is the adenocarcinoma, while two lesser common tumours are known as the acinar adenocarcinoma and the intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm. There are also several rare exocrine tumours that can occur in the pancreas.
Endocrine tumours are much less common than exocrine tumours, accounting for only 7% of all pancreatic cancers. Neuroendocrine tumours can be either functioning, meaning they produce hormones, or non-functioning, meaning they do not produce hormones. If a neuroendocrine tumour is functioning, the tumour will be named by the hormone the cells create. These can include:
Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is known among doctors as a silent disease as a patient may live their life normally without any symptoms of the cancer for some time. Some patients may experience symptoms that point to a different condition such as an ulcer. As the pancreatic cancer grows, so to may the symptoms.
These could include:
- Yellowing eyes and skin
- Darkened urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Pain in the upper back or upper abdomen
- Painful swelling in the arm or leg, linked to a blood clot
- Stomach bloating
- Lack of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- A burning sensation in the stomach
- Stools that float with an unusually bad odor or color
All symptoms should be discussed with your doctor as they may provide some insight into an underlying condition. If/when cancer is diagnosed, one of the major treatments will be palliative care. This care works to relieve a patient from their symptoms and helps them live a more comfortable life whilst living with cancer.