The pancreas is a gland located in the upper abdomen just behind the stomach and has two different functions: Synthesis of enzymes that help to feed food in the small intestine and synthesize hormones as secreted insulin into the bloodstream.
It can cause two types of cancer: adenocarcinoma (which begins in the cells that it synthesizes) and neuroendocrine cancer, the first one has a high mortality if it is not detected in time. According to the Ministry of Health, the last figure speaks for 4.1 per 100,000 inhabitants.
What symptoms should I pay attention to?
Due to the location of the pancreas and its relationship to other organs, the various symptoms depend on the location of the tumors. "Those found in the head of the pancreas cause jaundice (yellowing of the skin, sclera and other mucous membranes) or dark urine (coluria), because they interfere with the bile duct (general bile duct) that passes through the head of the pancreas, "says Felipe Pulema, a digestive surgeon at Clínica Las Condes.
The doctor also explains that, generally, tumors located in the pancreatic body and / or tail usually cause several symptoms until they are large in size. Among the most common are non-specific abdominal discomfort, low weight, lack of appetite and spinal pain.
With regard to proven risk factors, we found smoking, exposure to heavy metals, nitrosamines and excessive alcohol consumption and ionizing radiation. While sports activities are often followed, they follow a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables and enough vitamin D and omega 3 of marine origin are protective against this disease, although what improves the prognosis is the early diagnosis.
You may be interested in: Diabetes: 12% of the Chilean population suffers from this lethal illness
How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?
As an isolated organ of the digestive system, the pancreas delivers a very late symptom, so the diagnosis of cancer is usually done when it's too late. Consequently, medical examinations, if you have a family history, can help to be discovered early, allowing him to attack effectively.
Those who have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer are those who have a family history of digestive cancers, especially the pancreas, so they must remain in preventive control.
Dr. Puelma explains that the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is performed by research such as computed tomography of the abdomen and / or magnetic resonance of the abdomen. "In both cases they can be complementary and must be done with the latest technology because they allow for better planning of therapy," he says.
The abdomen abdomen may be complementary, but it is unlikely to see the entire pancreas due to its abdominal location. "Currently, given the increased access to these diagnostic methods, we are seeing an increase in the number of patients with pancreatic lesions of solid and cystic tumors, which allows us to make therapies before they have symptoms," says the specialist.
Read also: Lack of exercise would be worse for your health than smoking, diabetes or coronary heart disease
Early diagnosis and surgery are the best alternative for treating this cancer. Unfortunately, this is rare as a significant percentage of patients have advanced lesions. "It is important to note that these patients require therapies given by multidisciplinary teams (chemotherapy and radiotherapy) that provide for reliable results regardless of how advanced the pathology is," emphasizes Dr Felipe Pulema.
Cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cysts are important because they are likely to be transformed into malignant tumors during their evolution. "All these injuries should be evaluated by specialists as adequate therapy can prevent and cure patients who otherwise consult advanced malignant lesions," he says. In these cases, it may be indicated from the observation to the resection of the gland. It will all depend on the type of injury.