The pancreas is a pear-shaped gland that measures approximately six inches in length. It is located at the bottom of the breastbone behind the stomach. Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer that is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. It is rarely detected in the early stages, with symptoms becoming apparent as the disease progresses. The following are signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer you shouldn’t ignore.
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Facts About The Pancreas
The pancreas is composed of three sections, the head, body, and tail, and contains two main cell types. Digestive enzymes are produced by exocrine cells, and are released into ducts that empty into the small intestine where they digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
The second type of pancreatic cells are endocrine cells, which release insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar and energy production. Cancer results when mutated cells grow out of control, forming tumors that disrupt the normal functioning of the pancreas.
Pancreatic Cancer Types
Endocrine tumors, also called islet cell tumors, are rare. Approximately one-third of these tumors are benign, yet they release hormones, which cause odd symptoms. The remaining two-thirds of endocrine tumors, also called non-functioning tumors, do not cause symptoms, nor do they release hormones.
Most pancreatic cancers develop in the ducts that line the pancreas. These exocrine tumors are called adenocarcinomas, and comprise 80% of all pancreatic cancers. Endocrine tumors that form in the insulin-producing cells, the islets of langerhans, are less common than exocrine tumors.
Cancer can develop in the head, body, or tail of the pancreas, with up to 70% of pancreatic cancers originating in the head, the widest part of the pancreas. Fortunately, symptoms such as jaundice generally appear earlier due to the cancers proximity to the bile ducts, leading to an earlier diagnosis and a more favorable prognosis. If tumors are found early enough they can be removed before they have spread outside the pancreas.
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:
- Age above 45
- Gender – more men develop the disease
- Ethnicity – African Americans and Jewish people are at higher risk
- Alcohol consumption
- Pancreatic cysts (cancer risk increases but is low)
- Chronic pancreatitis
- A diet high in processed or smoked meat
Risk is slightly higher if a first-degree relative had pancreatic cancer. Long-term type II diabetes is also implicated in developing the disease.
Below is a great book about one person’s personal battle with pancreatic cancer:
Pancreatic tumors are hard to detect because of the location of the pancreas. A variety of diagnostic tools are used, including blood and genetic testing, physical exams, biopsies, ultrasounds, CT and PET scans, endoscopy, and MRIs.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the location, type and stage of the cancer. Conventional treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy, a type of therapy that blocks cancer cell growth by interfering with target molecules that promote tumor growth.
Various surgical procedures are used to treat pancreatic cancer, including the Whipple procedure where the gall bladder, head of the pancreas, and portions of the common bile duct, stomach, and small intestine are removed without negatively impacting digestion.
Another surgical option that may be necessary is removing the entire pancreas, along with the common bile duct, spleen, gallbladder, surrounding lymph nodes, and sections of the small intestine and stomach. A distal pancreatectomy involves removing the tail and body of the pancreas and the spleen.
Signs And Symptoms Of Pancreatic Cancer
The following are symptoms of pancreatic cancer you shouldn’t ignore:
High Blood Sugar
High blood sugar in itself does not indicate pancreatic cancer, but may be worrisome if it’s accompanied by other warning signs, such as exhaustion, abdominal pain, and weight loss. People with pancreatic cancer may develop diabetes due to the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin, causing high blood sugar. Diabetes is epidemic in the United States, but most people with the disease do not have pancreatic cancer.
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom presenting in pancreatic cancer with over 70% of patients experiencing symptoms, including mild cramping, a dull persistent ache, to more severe pain that radiates to the back. Pain is often accentuated by lying down or sitting. Discomfort is intermittent in the early stages of cancer, but increases in intensity as the disease progresses.
Exhaustion, fatigue, and lack of energy are due to the body’s inability to break down food into available nutrition and to balance blood sugar levels. Fatigue can also be the result of chronic pain caused by the cancer or as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation.
Jaundice occurs from an accumulation of bilirubin, a by-product of the break down of red blood cells, giving the skin and the whites of the eyes a yellow hue.
It is one of the first signs of pancreatic cancer. Bilirubin is a component of bile and is released through the common bile duct to break down fats in the small intestine. In pancreatic cancer, the bile duct becomes blocked, leading to a buildup of bilirubin.
Dark-colored urine and light-colored stools are other signs of jaundice. Conditions, such as hepatitis, gallstones, and diseases of the bile duct, can also cause a buildup of bilirubin, as can pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver.
Another symptom of pancreatic cancer is weight loss, caused from the digestive system’s inability to produce the enzymes that break down food. Fat digestion is especially compromised, leading to bloating, abdominal swelling, a feeling of fullness, and/or a loss of appetite.
People with pancreatic cancer can also develop blood clots caused from malignant cells inhibiting proteins that prevent clotting. Blood clots can also occur after any kind of trauma, such as a car accident, following surgery or laying stationary for long periods of time. Clots that develop in the absence of these situations are a potential warning sign of pancreatic cancer.
Holistic therapies can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies to fortify and strengthen the body. Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer, at one point treated his cancer holistically. He made tremendous progress until he went back to work, and was exposed to inordinate amounts of EMFs, known to negatively impact detoxification pathways.
There are many complementary cancer treatments that have proven successful in improving immune function and aiding in detoxification.
- High-dose enzyme therapy
- Nutritional therapy
- Pulsed electromagnetic therapy (PEMF)
- Hyperbaric oxygen
- DMSO potentiation therapy
- Infrared saunas
- Rife therapy
- Insulin potentiation therapy
- Essiac tea
- Low dose naltrexone
Click on any of the links above to learn more about that particular therapy.
Over 50,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, with an increase anticipated in 2019. 3% of all cancers in the US are pancreatic, accounting for 7% of all cancer deaths.
The lifetime risk of getting pancreatic cancer is approximately one in 64 people, not taking into consideration potential risk factors.
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that is painless until it has spread outside of the pancreas. This makes it difficult to diagnose in the early stages because symptoms are not apparent until the disease has advanced.
Do you know someone with pancreatic cancer? Please share your insights and experiences below.
Cancer Helpline: Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
You and your Hormones: The Pancreas
Mayo Clinic: Pancreatic Cancer
Cancer Research UK: Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Cancer Helpline: Key Statistics for Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic Cancer UK: What Causes Fatigue?
Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. Please be diligent and always do your own research in regard to any material I present on this site. I claim no responsibility for any distress, whether it be physical or emotional, that may occur as a result of the information you obtain from my blog.