At around six inches in length, and shaped similar to an elongated pear, the pancreas lies horizontally between the stomach and the spine. The organ's internal or endocrine cells produce the hormones glucagon and insulin, which help regulate blood sugar levels. External or exocrine cells of the pancreas produce a thick liquid commonly referred to as pancreatic juices that pass into the large intestine and help break down foods during the digestive process.
According to statistics, 95% of pancreatic cancer originates in the exocrine cells. The type of treatment provided and the outcome of the condition largely depend on the overall health of the patient, the stage of the cancer when diagnosed, and whether the disease process is initially diagnosed or a recurring process.
Surgical procedures serve to remove the cancer or improve the quality of life for the patient in the event that the cancer has spread. The type of surgery performed for cancer removal depends on the size and location of the tumor. When the cancer affects one end of the organ, or the entire organ, surgeons remove that portion of the pancreas plus portions of the adjoining organs, which may include the stomach, small intestine, bile duct, gallbladder, spleen and local lymph nodes. If the cancer spreads or metastasizes throughout the pancreas and into nearby organs, surgical options might only serve to reverse blockages in the bile duct, the stomach, or the small intestine.
The type of radiation prescribed also depends on the stage and type of cancer. Radiation therapy generally involves administering X-rays or other types of radiation in attempts at killing the cancer cells or to inhibit cell growth. External radiation treatments originate from outside the body and target the specific areas from the outside in. Internal radiation involves inserting catheters, needles, seeds, or wire containing radioactive materials that are positioned in or near the cancer.
Chemotherapy involves using one or more medications designed to inhibit growth, prevent cellular reproduction, and to kill existing malignant cells. The type of medication and the preferred route of administration depend on the stage and type of cancer. Systemic treatment involves taking a medication orally or injecting the preparation into a muscle or vein. Regional chemotherapy narrows the treatment area by administering the medication directly into the pancreas or into the abdominal cavity.
This method of treatment combines chemotherapy and radiation treatments in an effort to enhance the effectiveness of both therapies.
This type of treatment involves using specially designed medications that identify and attack only the abnormal cancer cells while ignoring normal tissue cells. The medications kill the cancer by interfering with normal cell function or by inhibiting cell growth and reproduction.
Additional Forms of Treatment
As the cancer grows and spreads, the abnormal cells put pressure on nerves or other organs, which causes pain or interferes with normal body functions. Physicians may prescribe pain medications or perform various types of procedures to alleviate the pressure or aid in the digestive process to ensure that the patient continues receiving the proper nutrition. Through continued research, scientists are discovering new options for medications and treatments that may benefit pancreatic cancer patients.