About the Condition
The pancreas is a large gland located in your upper abdomen, just below your ribs, and is a vital part of the digestive system. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes, which break down food so it can be absorbed into the body, and hormones – including insulin, which helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. Pancreatic cancer occurs the genetic material of cells in the pancreas become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the pancreas and move to other parts of the body.
Around 8,800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, making it the 11th most common cancer*. Cancer of the pancreas is more common in older people, with about half of all new cases diagnosed in people who are aged 75 or over*. It's uncommon in people under 40 years of age, but affects both men and women equally*.
The precise causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, but several risk factors have been identified, including:
- Being over the age of 80
- Having diabetes
- Having chronic pancreatitis or hereditary pancreatitis
- Having helicobacter pylori infection
- Having long-term hepatitis
- Having tooth or gum disease
- Heavy alcohol use
- A previous history of certain types of cancer
- Previously having radiotherapy
- Being overweight
Pancreatic cancers shows symptoms that include:
- Abdominal pain
- Sudden or unexplained weight loss
- Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you are referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will send you for a variety of tests and examinations. These include:
- A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
- An Ultrasound scan, which uses high frequency sound waves to look inside the body and produce live images on a computer display.
- A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
At CCL, patients with pancreatic cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. The treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on how much the cancer has spread, and your general fitness. Treatment could include:
- Surgery, where the affected area is removed
- Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form.
- Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease.
Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, but that it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support both physically and emotionally before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.
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