What is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach in the upper middle of the abdomen. Its functions include the secretion of pancreatic juices, which help break down food in the small intestine, and the production of hormones, such as insulin and glucagon. Pancreatic cancer develops when cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis (spread) arise in the pancreas. This anomalous cell growth results in a structure known as a tumor. The exact cause of pancreatic cancer eludes the research community, but certain risk factors have been shown to increase chances of cancer development. These risk factors include:
- Age: More than 80% of pancreatic cancer diagnoses involve patients between the ages of 60 and 80.
- Gender: Men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women.
- Race / Ethnicity: In the United States, African-Americans are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than any other race or ethnicity. Studies indicated that this ethnic predominance is caused by socioeconomic factors, such as increased tobacco use, diet, and other environmental stimuli.
- Tobacco Use: Tobacco use introduces harmful chemicals into the entire body. It is wrong to assume that the lungs and the oral cavity are exclusively affected by tobacco use. In fact, tobacco use is the most common risk factor amongst all cancers.
- Diet: High-fat, high-sugar, and high-nitrate (pork and canned meat) diets have been shown to increase pancreatic cancer risk.
- Environmental Stimuli
- Family History: Pancreatic cancer tends to occur in individuals with a family history of the disease.
Understanding pancreatic cancer is no simple task. For many in the medical community, the term “pancreatic cancer research” is synonymous with humility, diligence, and unconditional devotion. Each of these characteristics can be fostered in the minds and hearts of hardworking scientists, patients, and other interested parties, but without proper funding, research breakthroughs must germinate through hard, dry soil.
One of the major hurdles facing scientists is a lack of funding. Compared to other types of cancer, which are equally deserving of research dollars, pancreatic cancer research receives little financial attention. How can we change this? Generate awareness:
- Encourage your doctors to support and participate in pancreatic cancer research programs and events.
- If you are financially able, give to a reputable pancreatic research foundation. Cancer research thrives on the nourishment that it receives from private investors.
- If your schedule permits, participate in events that generate pancreatic cancer awareness. These events may include marathons, craft fairs, concerts, and other activities.
- Talk to everybody you know about the effects of pancreatic cancer.
The following organizations are faithfully devoted to understanding pancreatic cancer. Their efforts have already improved diagnostic procedures, risk management, treatment, and survival.
- American Cancer Society
- Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research
- The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at John Hopkins
- Lustgarten Foundation
- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
- Pancreatic Cancer Alliance
- Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Retrieved on April 28, 2009 from <http://www.pancreatic.org/>.
- American Cancer Society. Retrieved on April 28, 2009 from <http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_6X_Whats_new_in_pancreatic_cancer_research_and_treatment_34.asp>.
- The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at John Hopkins. Retrieved on April 28, 2009 from <http://www.path.jhu.edu/pancreas/>.