Chances are you rarely think about your pancreas unless you become ill. While measuring only about six inches in length, the pancreas is a large and important organ located behind the stomach and near the liver and top of the small intestine.
This hard-working organ produces “juices” that help absorb the food we eat, and the hormones insulin and glucagon to use and store energy and control blood sugar levels. Insulin is used to lower blood sugar levels while glucagon raises them.
Pancreatic cancer, (sometimes called exocrine cancer) is a common cancer that starts in the pancreas. In 2010, the latest estimates available indicate that 43,140 Americans were diagnosed with the disease and 36,800 will die as a result of it, according to the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The public health struggles of noted Americans U.S. Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and actor Patrick Swayze has brought recent attention to pancreatic cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer death.
Pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis for several reasons. There is no reliable early screening test for pancreatic cancer.
It is typically a fast spreading cancer that invades other organs and is difficult to diagnose in the early stages when it is most operable. That’s because pancreatic cancer is either without symptoms until it is in its advanced stage or the symptoms mirror that of other diseases or conditions, such as jaundice, stomach pain, fatigue or weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.
The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer approaches 25 percent if the tumors are surgically removed while they are still small and have not spread to the lymph nodes, reports Johns Hopkins. However since most pancreatic cancers are found late, surgery is not an option. Inoperable cancer is treated with radiation and chemotherapy.
Your doctor will use cancer staging to learn the extent of the disease and identify the best treatment options.