The pancreas plays a vital role in balancing body blood sugar since it produces insulin, which is the enzyme that controls blood sugar levels. The pancreas can develop malignant tumors which then grow into full-blown pancreatic cancer with fatal results. Pancreatic cancer develops when a tumor grows in the pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer, like any other cancer, starts from one or a few cells that divide uncontrollably and form a tumor. The tumor cells stay localized to the pancreas initially but can spread to lymph nodes or other organs (liver, abdominal cavity, lungs) as the cancer becomes more advanced. The exact reasons for DNA damage of pancreatic cells are not known, but several factors have been established to raise the risk of a person developing pancreatic cancer such as obesity, smoking, environmental exposures, and genetics.Pancreatic cancer can be very aggressive, progressing from stage I (localized disease) to stage IV (metastatic disease) in one year or less. It also is very difficult to diagnose early due to the lack of screening tests. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often vague and non-specific. For this reason, only 20% of patients with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at an early stage. Symptoms for pancreatic cancer include jaundice, itching, weight loss, loss of appetite, diarrhea, new-onset diabetes, and vague abdominal pain.Pancreatic cancer can be treated if it is diagnosed early enough.
Pancreatic surgery removes part or the whole of the diseased pancreas. Sometimes the tissue next to the pancreas will also be removed if cancer has spread. It is possible to survive without part of the pancreas. These procedures were done using open surgery in the past, but are done using minimally invasive robotic surgery.