The pancreas is an organ located just posterior to the stomach and anterior to the spine. The organ extends laterally from the duodenum to the spleen. The pancreas itself weights about three ounces and is six inches long (Martini, 2004). The pancreas is part of two different systems, the exocrine and the endocrine system. Their function within the exocrine system, which is 99% of the pancreatic volume, is to produces enzymes that help with most of the digestive work in the small intestine. Their role in the endocrine system is to manufacture insulin and glucagon, which are the hormones that are responsible for the regulation of blood glucose concentration. Anatomically, the common bile duct from the gall bladder converges with the main pancreatic duct of the pancreas to secrete their fluids into the duodenum of the small intestine. In general, the pancreas is responsible for homeostasis in the bloodstream and aids digestion. (Martini, 2004).
Pancreatic cancer is a neoplastic disease, which is when cell growth is abnormal or out of control. Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas grows out of the control to form a tumor. There are two most common types of pancreatic cancer types: one based from the exocrine cells called adenocarcinoma, and the other is formed from the endocrine cells, known as islet cell tumors or pancreatic endocrine neoplasms. Fortunately most endocrine neoplasm tumors are benign. Each type has different signs and symptoms, which then have different treatments and prognosisprognoses. Adenocarcinoma accounts for 75% of all pancreas cancers, and originates from the exocrine cells. The adenocarcinoma creates masses on cell lining of the pancreatic ducts. Endocrine tumors account for less than 5% of all pancreatic tumors, but the majority of endocrine tumors are benign (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2007). The majority of damage caused by pancreatic damage is during the later stages when the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body.
Causes of pancreatic cancers are unknown, but research has shown that there are a few potential risk factors that raise the chances the person’s chances of increases the person chances of developing pancreatic cancer. They The risk factors include age, family history, diabetes, race, having chronic pancreatitis, diet, and obesity. Those with one or more of these risk factors will not necessarily develop pancreatic cancer.
“A Silent Disease” is the name given to pancreatic cancer since no signs or symptoms are noticed until the cancer is in advanced stages. Many of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be misdiagnosed for as another disease (National Cancer Institute, 2008). At this time, there is no reliable screening method to detect the early stages for this disease.
Diagnosing pancreatic cancer is very difficult since signs and symptoms do not show up until the cancer starts interfering with other organs. As the cancer grows, other symptoms, such as jaundice, upper and lower back pain, appetite loss, weight loss, malnutrition, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting may occur (The Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, 2007).
To accurately diagnose pancreatic cancer, the physician will ask the patient of about their family history. The physician can will also give perform a physical exam by examining the eye and skin for jaundice, as well as feeling the abdomen for any change in shape. They can also order lab tests to check blood, urine, and stool for bilruibin, a product of the bile duct. If the pancreatic duct is blocked by a tumor, the level of bilirubin would increase in blood, urine, and stool. They can may also run a few different tests, such asorder a CT (computer tomography), ultrasound, and or PET (positron emission tomography) to visualize pancreatic changes. CT scans allow for imaging of soft tissue, bone, and blood vessels which may help in the detection and location ofe tumors.