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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic Cancer
Causes and Risk Factors

Pancreatic cancer
Rates of pancreatic cancer have slightly dropped in the past 25 years. However, pancreatic cancer can lead to serious health issues, and can spread rapidly throughout the body. But what is the role of the pancreas in the body? And what types of pancreas cancer do doctors diagnose?

Pancreas anatomy
The pancreas is one of the organs included in the digestive system. It is located near the stomach and small intestine. It has two major jobs or functions. The exocrine pancreas produces enzymes that help in the digestion of food products. The endocrine pancreas produces several hormones that have diverse functions.

  1. Produces enzymes for food digestion
  2. Produces hormones

What is pancreatic cancer?
Cancer that begins in the pancreas is called pancreatic cancer. Metastatic pancreatic cancer is pancreatic cancer that spreads to other organs in the body.

How does cancer spread?
When pancreatic cancer spreads, it usually transits through the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of thin tubes that branch, like blood vessels, into tissues all over the body. Cancer cells are transported through these vessels by lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that carries cells that fight infection. Along the network of lymphatic vessels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs. These small bean shaped organs are called lymph nodes.

Types of pancreatic cancer
Cancers of the pancreas can be grouped according to the location of the cancer in the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer can also be grouped according to the type of cell the cancer has originated from.  Classifications that doctors use to describe pancreatic cancer follow.

Cancer of the acinar cells - The acinar cells are at the terminal ends of the ducts that produce the pancreatic juices.

Cystic tumors - Cystic tumors cause a cyst or fluid filled sac located in the pancreas.  Most pancreatic cysts are benign (non cancerous). However, some are cancerous.  Cystic cancers can have a favorable prognosis than other types of exocrine pancreatic cancer.

Exocrine cancers - The majority of cancers of the pancreas are exocrine in type.  What this means is that they start in the cells of the exocrine pancreas. Juices produced in the pancreas are released into channels, or ducts, within the pancreas. The juices pass through the main pancreatic duct into the duodenum.  There are numbers of different types of exocrine pancreatic cancers. 

Lymphoma of the pancreas - Lymphoma is a cancer that attacks the lymphatic system of the body.  As the lymphatic system runs throughout the body, the cancer can appear anywhere. Lymphoma of the pancreas is treated differently to the other types of pancreatic cancer. 

Rarer endocrine pancreatic tumors - Endocrine cancers start in the endocrine pancreas. This is where insulin and other hormones are made. From here they are released directly into the bloodstream.  Endocrine cancers are a group of hormone producing tumors.  They are also referred to as neuroendocrine tumors.  They names are derived after the hormone they produce. For example:

  • gastrinomas produce a hormone called gastrin 
  • glucagonomas produce a hormone called glucagon
  • insulinomas produce insulin 
  • somatostatinomas produce a hormone called somatostatin 

Sarcomas of the pancreas - These are cancers involve the connective tissue holding together the cells of the pancreas.  They are very rare and usually occur in children.

Who is at risk of developing pancreatic cancer? And what can cause this cancer in the first place? Continue reading for more information on which risk factors you can avoid, plus more on what causes pancreatic cancer here.

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Tags: cancer cells, Cancer, neuroendocrine tumors, lymphatic system, small intestine, somatostatin, lymph nodes, intestine, infection, Lymphoma, anatomy, stomach, attacks, acinar, cells, food, tumors, anatomy of the body, anatomy digestive system, lymphoma cancer
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