Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the endocrine and exocrine organ, the pancreas. The pancreas is located behind the upper stomach, and close to the backbone. The pancreas is an organ that produces chemicals that are essential to the proper digestion of food, and sugar regulation throughout the body.
Unfortunately, cancer of the pancreas is the fourth leading cause of death, because in its earliest stages, pancreatic cancer is very difficult to diagnose. However, recent studies have provided scientists and experts with more information that is assisting the medical field in understanding why it is so difficult to diagnose and treat and providing answers to what causes the lethal cancer to begin with.
The Four Stages of Pancreatic Cancer
In Pancreatic cancer, there are four stages of the progression of the cancer determined by the spreading of the cancer throughout the body, and the other organs the cancer affects. The cancer is usually in the third or fourth stage before it is recognized because usually masses are too small to be felt in the first or second stages.
In the first stage of pancreatic cancer, the cancer is only found in the pancreas, either in the exocrine pancreas or endocrine pancreas or both. There are two stages of stage 1 pancreatic cancer, stage 1A and stage 1B. In stage 1A, the found tumor is less than one centimeter, and in stage 1B the tumor is at least two centimeters or larger. Symptoms are not usually noticeable until later stages, but if there is persistent pain in the pancreatic region, long term jaundice or unexplainable and uncontrolled weight loss, patients should consult a doctor immediately. Sometimes uncontrollable glucose levels can indicate where the early cancer cells are in the pancreas.
In stage 2 pancreatic cancers, the cancer has spread from the pancreas to parts of the small intestine or bile ducts, but has not spread to lymph nodes and tissues. There are also two stages to stage 2 pancreatic cancer, stage 2A and 2B. In stage 2A pancreatic cancer, the cancer has spread to surrounding organs and tissues, but has not spread to surrounding lymph nodes. In stage 2B pancreatic cancer, the cancer cells make long extensions heading towards lymph nodes.
In stage 3 pancreatic cancers, the cancer has spread to lymph nodes and tissues, but has not necessarily spread to surrounding organs and organ systems. Unfortunately, at this point the cancer has spread, and created large tumors, that many times cannot be removed by way of surgery. Many oncologists recommend consultation for clinical trials because chemotherapy alone has shown to be ineffective.
In stage 4A pancreatic cancer, the cancer has spread to surrounding organs, organ systems, and tissues. The cancer has spread to close organs such as the stomach, small intestine, and colon. In stage 4B pancreatic cancer, the cancer has spread to surrounding organs such as the stomach, small intestine, colon, and possibly organs that are further away from the pancreas such as the liver, lungs or heart. At this point, the cancer may have also spread to bone tissues.
There are two stages to stage 4 pancreatic cancers. In recent years, patients who have reached stage 4 pancreatic cancer have increased their life expectancy from five months to ten months with many effective clinical trails, but still mortality rates are high. Unfortunately, at the present time there is no way to cure pancreatic cancer. An absolute cure relies on the cancer being diagnosed and removed in the earliest stages.
However, The Lustgarten Foundation scientist’s recent research discovered mutations of over 60 types of DNA that have provided a good foundation of information that can be utilized to develop ways to diagnose and detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages, to create new drugs that can target cancer cells, that can identify hereditary and gene markers of individuals likely to inherit the disease from family, and to perform even more in depth studies on pancreatic cancer.
With the latest findings and advancements in Science regarding the early diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer, we can only hope in the future to cure pancreatic cancer, to find ways to increase longevity in pancreatic cancer patients, and to ultimately ease the suffering for its victims.