Pancreatic Cancer: Types and Treatment

pancreatic cancerThe pancreas in an organ situated behind the stomach and contains the exocrine and endocrine glands. The cells of these glands are likely to get cancerous and start reproducing at an abnormal rate and form tumors. The causes and risk factors of both these types of cancerous growth differ and have different signs and symptoms. Hence the treatment required for both of them is different as well.

Types of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is mainly divided into two types, depending on the gland that is affected. Such as:

  • Exocrine tumors - These are the more common type of pancreatic cancer. These are further sub-divided into pancreatic adenocarcinoma (cancer of gland cells), adenosquamos carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, undifferentiated carcinomas, signet ring-cell carcinomas, the rare SPNs (solid pseudopapillary neoplasms) affecting young women as well as the ampullary cancer which is the cancer of the ampulla of Vater.
  • Endocrine tumors – These tumors are rarely seen tumors and make up for less than 4% of all pancreatic cancer cases. These are also known as NETs (pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors) or islet cell tumors. These can be in the form of malignant tumors or can be benign and harmless. These are further sub-divided into ‘functioning tumors' such as gastrinomas, insulinomas, glucagonomas and VIPomas. The other types of endocrine tumors are ‘non-functioning tumors' such as those that do not produce sufficient excessive hormone to cause noticeable symptoms and are harder to detect till they have grown significantly large in size and the ‘carcinoid tumors' that are seen developing in the pancreas in rare cases.

Pancreatic Cancer treatment

There are different ways of pancreatic cancer treatment. Your doctor/surgeon will be able to advise you about the best and most efficient pancreatic cancer treatment method for you according to various factors such as your age, overall health level, everyday activities, the location, type, size and the stage of the pancreatic cancer.

These are some of the commonly performed pancreatic cancer treatments:

Surgical removal of pancreatic cancer - Diagnostic tests will help the surgeon decide if your cancer can be removed surgically without causing any complications. This is usually recommended for early-stage pancreatic cancers and involves a major surgical procedure.

Surgical relief from symptoms - In case the pancreatic cancer is in its advanced stages and has spread to affect the surrounding tissues and organs then surgery might be recommended in order to create a diversion from a blocked bile duct or duodenum, called a ‘bypass surgery'. This surgery is helpful in relieving symptoms of pancreatic cancer such as jaundice and sickness.

Stenting for relief from symptoms - A stent is simply a small medical-grade tube made of artificial material (mostly metal and plastic) which is used to help create a bypass around a blockage. Jaundice is caused when the cancer blocks your bile duct. Sickness can be induced in case the cancer blocks the duodenum (upper portion of small bowel) causing nausea and vomiting as food is not able to pass from your stomach into the bowel as it does normally. A stent can be used by fixing it into the blocked duodenum or bile duct thus keeping the passageway open. This surgery is performed using minimally invasive endoscopic methods.

Chemotherapy - This treatment method involves using medicinal drugs that are targeted at the spreading and reproducing abilities of the tumor. After a surgical removal of the pancreatic cancer, you will most likely be advised to undergo a chemotherapy treatment in order to avoid the risk of the cancer recurring later. In cases of advanced pancreatic cancer the surgeon will usually advise chemotherapy first, in order to shrink the tumor and to help relieve the symptoms.

Radiotherapy - This cancer treatment method involves using high-energy beams of radiation (such as x-ray particles) to target the tumor (cancerous) cells and to destroy them using heat generated by the concentrated beam of energy. This treatment method is usually not used in treatment of pancreatic cancer however this therapy may be advised to shrink a large tumor as well as to relieve the painful symptoms.


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