What are the early warning signs of pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer does not show its signs and symptoms in its early stages. Only when it has grown large enough, it begins to exhibit its warning signs and symptoms.
But having these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have pancreatic cancer. They can be due to some other conditions. Hence, it is important to check with your doctor when you notice them.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin): Most people with pancreatic cancer have jaundice as one of their first symptoms. Darker urine, light-colored or greasy stools, and itchy skin are other signs and symptoms found in pancreatic cancer.
- Belly or back pain: Pain in the abdomen or back is common in pancreatic cancer. Belly pain is caused due to the large pancreatic tumors pressing on the surrounding organs. Back pain is due to the pressing of the large pancreatic mass on the nerves.
- Unintended weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting (usually worsened by eating)
- Enlarged gallbladder or liver
- Deep vein thrombosis or DVT (blood clots in a large vein, usually in the leg)
What are the types of pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer can be either of the two types:
- Exocrine pancreatic cancer: Cancer of a part of the pancreas (exocrine) that secretes enzymes that aid digestion
- Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer: Cancer of a part of the pancreas (neuroendocrine) that secretes hormones such as insulin and glucagon
Exocrine pancreatic cancers, the most common type of pancreas cancer, make up for 95% of all pancreatic cancers. They are again of the following types based on the presence of the type of cells:
Pancreatic adenocarcinoma: More than 90% of cancers of the exocrine pancreas are adenocarcinomas.
Less common exocrine pancreatic cancers are:
- Adenosquamous carcinomas
- Squamous cell carcinomas
- Signet ring cell carcinomas
- Undifferentiated carcinomas
- Undifferentiated carcinomas with giant cells
Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancers, also known as endocrine or islet cell tumors are rare pancreatic tumors that make up for the rest 5% of pancreatic cancers.
What are the stages of pancreatic cancer?
The National Cancer Institute has classified the progression of pancreatic cancer into four stages ranging from I to IV with stage 0 being the earliest stage.
- Stage 0: Also known as carcinoma in situ, at this stage, cancer is found only in the upper layers of the pancreatic ducts. This stage cannot be identified by imaging tests or even by the naked eye.
- Stage I: Cancer has reached deeper into the pancreas. Stage one can be
- Stage IA: The tumor is ≤2 cm in size
- Stage IB: The tumor is >2 cm but ≤4 cm in size
- Stage II: Tumor size is > 4cm and cancer may have spread from the pancreas to lymph nodes or nearby organs.
- Stage IIA: Cancer has spread to nearby organs, but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IIB: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and may have spread to other nearby organs.
- Stage III: Cancer has spread to the major blood vessels surrounding the pancreas and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: Also known as end-stage pancreatic cancer or metastatic pancreatic cancer, this stage is characterized by the spread of cancer to other organs, such as the liver, lung, and bones.
Unlike many cancers, however, patients with pancreatic cancer are typically grouped into three categories:
- those with local disease,
- those with locally advanced, unresectable disease, and
- those with metastatic disease.
Initial therapy often differs for patients in these three groups.
What is the survival rate for pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is the ninth most common cancer in women and the tenth most common cancer in men. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women.
The five-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least five years after the cancer is found. The general five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is 9% i.e., only nine out of every 100 patients of pancreatic cancer will survive for at least five years.
Survival rates and individual outcomes are based on many factors, including the stage of cancer and response of the patient to cancer therapy.
- Early-stage pancreatic cancer (cancer present only in the pancreas)/Stage I: The five-year survival rate is 37%.
- Pancreatic cancer that has spread to surrounding tissues or organs/Stage II and Stage III: The five-year survival rate is 12%.
- Pancreatic cancer that has spread to a distant organ of the body (metastasis)/Stage IV: The five-year survival rate is 3%.
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Pancreatic Cancer. Available at: https://www.medicinenet.com/pancreatic_cancer/article.htm
Pancreatic Cancer Treatments by Stage. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/pancreatic-cancer-treatments-stage#1
Pancreatic Cancer Guide. Available at: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/pancreatic-cancer
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