Pancreatic Cancer

The cancer of the pancreas begins in the pancreatic cells. In effect, the pancreas is an outsized gland present at the back of your stomach and quite deep in the upper portion of the abdomen.

The pancreas forms an element of our digestive tract and the digestive juices produced by it run through a tube found in the middle of the pancreas, which is known as the pancreatic duct. This duct is connected to the common bile duct that transports bile produced by the liver. Subsequently, the common bile duct drains into the duodenum (the small intestine's initial part). Together, the juices produced by the pancreas as well as bile assist in digesting the ingested food further within the duodenum when the food has passed through the stomach. In addition, the pancreas also forms an element of the hormonal system and produces insulin as well as a number of other hormones. Hormones produced by the pancreas go into the bloodstream and aid the body to utilize or store energy (such as, sugar and fat) derived from the foods consumed.

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The classification of pancreatic cancer is dependent on whether this ailment has any effect on the endocrine or exocrine functioning of the pancreas. In fact, there is a significant difference between the two extensive forms of pancreatic cancers, as they each have dissimilar causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnostic tests, cures and prognoses or prospects.

Pancreatic tumours involving the exocrine functions are the most widespread form of pancreatic cancer. Occasionally, such tumours or cysts are benign and known as cystadenomas. Nevertheless, the chances are more that you will find malignant tumours known as adenocarcinomas, which comprise approximately 95 per cent of the pancreatic cancers that affect the exocrine functioning. In effect, adenocarcinomas usually begin with the gland cells inside the ducts of the pancreas. However, they may also originate in the pancreatic enzyme cells, wherein they are called acinar cell carcinoma.

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There are a number of other forms of pancreatic cancers which are related to the exocrine functions and they comprise adenosquamous carcinomas, giant cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. The giant cell carcinomas have derived their name from their oversized appearance when seen through a microscope. In addition, there is an ailment known as ampullary cancer or the carcinoma of the ampulla of Vater, which has its origin at the place of meeting of the pancreatic and bile ducts in the duodenum in the small intestine.

On the other hand, tumours that have an effect on the endocrine functioning of the pancreas are known as neuroendocrine, also called islet cell tumours, but this form of pancreatic cancer is rather unusual. Such tumours get their name from the kind of cells producing hormones that are affected in the initial stage of the disease. For instance - glucagonomas (glucagon), insulinomas (insulin), somatostatinomas (somatostatin), gastrinomas (gastrin), and VI Pomas (also known as vascoactive intestinal peptide or VIP). While the working islet cell tumours continue to produce hormones, islet cells that are no longer functioning do not produce any hormone. Although majority of such tumours are usually benign, chances are there that the tumours that are non-functioning would be malignant by nature - islet cell carcinomas.

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Precisely speaking, all types of cancers are basically caused by uncontrolled growth of cells that do not expire. Regular cells in our body pursue a methodical growth path, multiplication and death. In effect, programmed cell death is known as apoptosis and when this procedure fails, it results in development of cancer. Cancer cells of the pancreas never undergo programmatic death, but they keep on growing as well as multiplying. While scientists are yet to ascertain the precise reason that causes these cells to act in this manner, they have been successful in identifying numerous risk factors responsible for pancreatic cancers.

Several aspects, including food habits, age as well as chubbiness have been related to pancreatic cancer. Individuals who do not undertake much exercise and are also obese are more at risk of developing the cancers of the pancreas. Moreover, people who consume diets that contain very less vegetable and fruits, but are high in fat and red meat content are possibly faced with a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In addition, consumption of alcohol is also believed to be one of the risk factors for developing this deadly disease. Consumption of alcoholic beverages for prolonged periods results in chronic pancreatitis - a major risk factor for developing cancer of the pancreas.

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The symptoms of cancer are somewhat dissimilar and they are dependent on the place where this deadly disease has developed, where it has spread as well as the extent of the tumour. Very often, pancreatic cancer is also known as a 'silent' ailment primarily owing to the fact that this disease seldom exhibits the symptoms and later on produces symptoms that are non-specific.

Nevertheless, when the pancreatic cancers are in an advanced stage they do show several symptoms, including soreness in the upper portion of the abdomen owing to the tumour pressing against the nerves, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting, the skin and the eyes turning yellow without any pain and the darkening of the urine owing to jaundice - which occurs when the cancer get in the way of the functioning of the liver and the bile duct, and noticeable loss of body weight and debility. The other visible symptoms of pancreatic cancer in the later stages include pale or grey colored stool (also known as acholic stool) as well as steatorrhea (presence of too much fat in stool). It is worth mentioning here that the symptoms of pancreatic cancer mentioned above have several other reasons that make it tricky to make a diagnosis of the disease prior to it developing to an advanced stage.

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Pancreatic cancers are also related to Trousseau's sign - a condition in which the patient suffers from unprompted formation of blood clots within the portal blood vessels, deep veins present in the arms and legs or different superficial veins. Prior to the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, occasionally another symptom called clinical depression may occur.

In the event of the cancers of pancreas spreading or metastasizing, more symptoms may occur in the area that has been affected lately. Eventually, the symptoms of metastasis are conditional on the places where the pancreatic cancer has extended to.

Neuroendocrine or islet cell cancers of the pancreas have the aptitude to stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin or other hormones in excess. This action of the pancreas may possibly result in a feeble or wobbly sensation, muscle spasms, chills or diarrhea.

Supplements and herbs

Use of specific herbs and dietary supplements has been found to be effective in preventing as well as aiding in the treatment of various forms of cancers. For instance, green tea, which is an extremely well accepted beverage, is valued for its remedial actions. Prepared by brewing the leaves of the herb known as Camellia sinensis, occasionally green tea is employed in the form of a matching medication for a wide range of health conditions, counting kidney stones, Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease as well as several dissimilar types of cancers. Chemical analysis of green tea has revealed that while it encloses several active compounds, most of the benefits offered by green tea is perhaps attributable to the natural compounds called polyphenols. However, it is important that you talk to your doctor prior to using green tea to cure any of the health conditions you may be having.

While folic acid present in several foods is known to lessen the chances of developing pancreatic cancer, it is yet to be ascertained whether using folic acid supplements also provide similar benefits. It seems that ingestion of augmented amounts of dietary folate derived from foods helps to lessen the possibilities of developing cancers of the pancreas. This was revealed by the findings of a study undertaken in Sweden involving a large number of people, including men and women, of that country. Findings of earlier studies have hinted that folate has the potential to provide protection against breast as well as colorectal cancers. In addition, folate, which is also known as folic acid, is basically a B vitamin that is naturally present in vegetables and fruits. In fact, the government in the United States has made it mandatory for the manufacturers to secure all grain products with folic acid.

In addition to folic acid, vitamin D may also prove to be useful in decreasing the risks of developing pancreatic cancer. People who regularly take vitamin D tablets are less susceptible to the deadly cancers of the pancreas. However, it is too early to conclude whether obtaining vitamin D from food or the sunlight lessens the chances of developing this disease. In effect, vitamin D has demonstrated a potent potential to prevent as well as cure prostate cancer and body parts which have more exposure to sunlight have fewer cases as well as mortality from several forms of cancers, including those related to the breast, prostate and colon. This has prompted scientists to probe into the function of vitamin D in reducing the risks of developing pancreatic cancer.

One of the new treatments for cancers of the pancreas is inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) - a polyphosphorylated carbohydrate that occurs naturally in a number of foods that are rich in fiber content. It has been reported that IP6 has noteworthy inhibitory actions against an assortment of primary tumours, including those occurring in the breast and colon.

The consequences of using IP6 in pancreatic cancer are yet to be appraised by the scientists. It is likely that like in the case of breast and colon tumours, IP6 would also slow down the growth of carcinogenic cells and, at the same time, augment the apoptotic rate of cancers of the pancreas in vitro. It may be noted that the scientists have cultured two lines of pancreatic cancer cells (MIAPACA and PANC1) employing regular techniques and treated them using IP6 in doses of 0.5 mm, 1.0 mm and 5.0 mm. The viability of the cells was calculated by MTT at 24 hours and 72 hours. The scientists observed notable falls in cellular propagations with all IP6 concentrations that were tested in both the pancreatic cancer cell lines at both the given points of time. The decreases in the cell propagations varied from 37 per cent to 91 per cent. In addition, it was observed that IP6 augmented the early as well as late apoptotic activity.

Treating pancreatic cancer using regular dietary polyphosphorylated carbohydrate IP6 also considerably reduced the growth of the carcinogenic cells and, at the same time, enhanced apoptosis (also known as programmed cell death). It is worth mentioning here that the scientists have found that IP6 has the potential to turn out to be an effectual optional extra for treating cancers of the pancreas. Nevertheless, more in vitro human studies are necessary to appraise the safety as well as the clinical usefulness of this anti-cancer agent in patients suffering from cancers of the pancreas.

In addition, it has been suggested that intake of B vitamins, for instance B6 and B12, which are consumed through foods and not in the form of pills or tablets, helps to lessen the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Ingestion of lycopene in the form of a dietary supplement also helps to lessen the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. While vegetables and fruits have been associated with the etiology or origin of pancreatic cancer, thus far, the function of the phytochemicals present in these groups of foods have not received the attention that is due to them. In fact, beta-carotene as well as total carotenoids were related to a notably lessened risk of developing pancreatic cancer in people who have never smoked tobacco. The findings of this study hint that taking a diet that is rich in tomatoes as well as products prepared from tomatoes having high amounts of lycopene may possibly aid in lessening the chances of developing cancers of the pancreas.

Triphala (which when literally translated into English denotes 'three fruits') is an herb that is native to India and has been found to work in the form of a complete cleanser of the body. Triphala assists in detoxifying as well as cleansing the colon and, at the same time, it also disinfects the blood and gets rid of the toxic substances from the liver. Triphala also offers additional cleansing benefits, which comprise lessening a number of types of cholesterol, for instance, serum cholesterol and lowering the blood pressure. In addition, it may also prove to be useful in fighting cancers of the pancreas.

Additional things you may do

Besides taking the conventional remedies and herbs and supplements, you may do several additional things to prevent as well as facilitate the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Going by the reports of the American Cancer Society, there are no specific or proven instructions or suggestions that may help one from developing cancers of the pancreas. Nevertheless, it is suggested that you give up smoking tobacco since the use of cigarettes is believed to be a major risk factor in as many as 20 to 30 per cent of cancers of the pancreas. Usually, physicians suggest normal preventive measures, for instance, maintaining a healthy weight, undertaking work-outs and augmenting the consumption of vegetables and fruits as well as whole grains, while lessening the intake of red meat. However, there is no scientific proof whatsoever that these recommendations will help in preventing or even lessening the incidences of pancreatic cancer.

At the same time consumption of excessive sugar or foods that are rich in sugar content is also related to an augmented risk of developing pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, consumption of more foods that are rich in fiber content as well as whole grains helps in lowering the chances of developing the cancers of the pancreas. While flavonoids are very common in most foods derived from plants, they are found in maximum concentrations in specific plant-based foods, such as apples, berries, broccoli, onions and kale. It has been found that people eating large amounts of foods containing flavonoids generally are at a lesser risk of developing cancers of the pancreas.

In addition, individuals who consume burned or overcooked red meat, such as those cooked on a grill, on a regular basis are confronted with an augmented risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Consumption of high amounts of alcoholic beverages daily for a prolonged period of time also augments the risk of developing this form of cancer. Similarly, people drinking two or more sugared soft drinks every week also face a higher risk of having pancreatic cancer. Moreover, obese people are also threatened with higher risks of developing the cancers of the pancreas. People, women in particular, having excessive fat in the region of their waist too face high risks of having this deadly disease.

On the other hand consumption of more uncooked vegetables daily, particularly, those that are yellow or deep green reduces the chances of developing pancreatic cancer. The findings of a study undertaken by Swedish scientists, show that consuming lots of cauliflower, cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts may possibly protect one from developing pancreatic cancer.

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