Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer And Its Effects

To understand how metastatic pancreatic cancer occurs first you have to understand what the pancreas’s function is. The pancreas is an organ of the human body that plays an important role in the digestion of food and produces Insulin, the body’s main hormone that regulates glucose that exists in the blood. It is about 15 centimeters in length and is located between the stomach and the spine on the left side of the body. Pancreatic cancers spread rapidly (unfortunately). It starts when a malignant tumor forms in the pancreas. Cells can invade and damage surrounding tissue sneaking into the bloodstream and lymphatic system from the tumor to other cells. This expansion to distant organs is called metastasis. The same process occurs with metastatic breast cancer and metastatic liver cancer.

Metastatic pancreatic cancer is also presented as part of a hereditary tumor spectrum, in association with colon and breast cancer that are also hereditary tumors. Cancer specialists are unable to explain the exact cause of pancreatic cancer origin. The most established risk factor is, without doubt, the smoking of cigarettes. There is a clear relationship between the number of cigarettes smoked and the occurrence of pancreatic cancer. Many of the analysis of potential risk factors are based on statistical data. 

Often this type of cancer is referred to as a silent disease. The symptoms usually are nonspecific so most patients are unfortunately diagnosed at an advanced stage (there are 4 stages of pancreatic cancer). Anyway some possible symptoms may be:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • development of diabetes without previous family history
  • palpable abdominal mass and
  • flatulence among others

Some ways to diagnose it are physical examination, blood, urine or stool tests. The skin and the eyes of the patient are analyzed to see if they look yellow, a sign of jaundice. Almost half of all patients with pancreatic cancer display this symptom which is caused by the accumulation of bilirubin in the tissue and blood.

The types of treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer will depend on the stage of the disease. If the tumor is inoperable then chemotherapy is used. In certain circumstances radiation therapy will also be combined with chemo (commonly referred to as chemoradiotherapy or chemoradiation). Chemo for pancreatic cancer is used to try to kill the cancerous cells and stop them from returning. The drugs for chemotherapy are usually injected into the vein or taken orally. Gemcitabine is the chemotherapy drug that is typically given for pancreatic cancer treatment and another commonly administered drug is 5-fluorouracil. As we know although chemotherapy kills cancerous cells, normal cells will also be affected which can lead to various side-effects including hair loss, nausea, loose motions and a loss of appetite. Unfortunately, if your doctor has advised administering chemotherapy and radiotherapy you can expect the side effects to be even worse.

In patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer whose tumor cannot be completely removed, but who have biliary obstruction, it has to be cleared. Management of pain and other symptoms is an important part of the treating for advanced pancreatic cancer. Science progresses and the last thing being investigated is the anti-tumor immunotherapy. It works by stimulating our natural defense system to correctly identify cancer cells and kill them. The vaccine to prevent cancer such as breast, colon, liver and stomach already exists. But in the case of pancreatic cancer that is so hard to detect early the preventive treatment is complicated. This has led to the development of a vaccination strategy aimed at patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer, where the vaccine is injected directly into the tumor. This is to improve the body’s immune system to help fight cancer. With so many sufferers worldwide let’s hope that someday science finds a treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer (as well as for other types of cancer) and it can be detected at an early stage to extend metastatic pancreatic cancer life expectancy.