The pancreas is a gland that plays an important role in the digestive and endocrine systems of vertebrates. Its primary functions are to secrete enzymes that help break down food in the small intestine (digestive system) and to produce hormones (endocrine system), including insulin, somatostatin, and glucagon.
When cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis arise in the pancreas, a cancer may develop. These cells, having undergone an anomalous transformation that causes them to proliferate abnormally, form a structure called a neoplasm. If this neoplasm destroys adjacent tissues, and/or spreads to other areas of the body, a cancer is formed.
Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors
- Obesity: Obese people are more likely to develop a pancreatic cancer.
- Tobacco Use: Tobacco use may lead to the development of pancreatic cancer.
- Personal or Family History of Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis leads to chronic pancreas inflammation. Prolonged inflammation of the gland may lead to the development of a cancer.
- Ethnicity: Pancreatic cancer occurs in blacks more than any other race or ethnicity.
- Age: Most pancreatic cancer diagnoses occur in people over the age of 70.
- Personal or Family History of Pancreatic Cancer: If you have a parent or sibling that has pancreatic cancer, you are more likely to also develop the disease.
- Genetic Disorders: Inherited BRCA2 gene mutations, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Lynch Syndrome, and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) may lead to the development of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer Outlook
Typically, pancreatic cancer yields a poor prognosis (outlook). These cancers are very aggressive and are rarely diagnosed at an early stage. Furthermore, they are often asymptomatic until they have metastasized to other structures throughout the body, making surgical resection frequently impossible. For these reasons, pancreatic cancer is among the most deadly cancers in the United States.
Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
- Exercise: Regular exercise will lead to overall good health and happiness. The best preventative medicine for any cancer is a healthy lifestyle and a stress-free environment.
- Quit Smoking and/or Chewing Tobacco: If you are a smoker, then talk to your healthcare provider about treatments, therapies, and social networks that can help you quit. If you don’t smoke, then don’t start.
- Diet: Consume an array of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as many whole grains. Not only will these foods help you maintain a healthy weight, but they also help support a healthy digestive system.