Despite being rare, pancreatic cancer accounts for roughly 3% of all cancer cases in the US and about 7% of all cancer deaths.1 It slightly affects men more than women. This illness first develops in your pancreas’s tissues, an abdomen organ located below your stomach. It is responsible for producing digestive enzymes and hormones that help regulate your blood sugar level.
Your pancreas can suffer from several growths, like cancerous and noncancerous tumors. But the most prevalent type of cancer in the pancreas starts in the cells that line the ducts that release digestive enzymes out of the organ. What are the signs of pancreatic cancer? Unfortunately, due to the lack of early-stage pancreatic cancer symptoms, it is difficult to recognize this form of illness. However, you can quickly identify and select a better therapy option if you thoroughly understand the ailment.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
What is pancreatic cancer? Basically, pancreatic cancer occurs in two distinct forms; exocrine and neuroendocrine tumors. This distinction is based on the type of organ cell that cancers originate from. It is important to note that each pancreatic cancer patient is unique and tends to experience varying pancreatic cancer symptoms.
Here is detailed information about several types of pancreatic cancer:2
Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (PNETs)
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, also known as islet cell tumors, rarely occur, hence accounting for about 7% of pancreatic tumors.3 These pancreatic tumors often grow more slowly than exocrine tumors. Endocrine cells in the pancreas proliferate abnormally, leading to the development of islet cell tumors or NETs.
Pancreatic Exocrine Cancers
Most pancreatic cancer patients have shown a positive diagnosis of exocrine cancers. Even though you need to check with your provider, there are higher chances that exocrine cancer is what you have if you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
- Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinomas often refer to tumors in other organs, but if they appear in the pancreas, they are known as pancreatic adenocarcinomas. It is the common type of exocrine pancreatic tumor, accounting for 85% of the cases.4 Adenocarcinoma usually develops from starts in the cells lining the pancreatic duct responsible for producing digestive enzymes. Adenocarcinoma is an exocrine tumor. It starts in the cells lining the pancreatic duct, which makes enzymes for digestion.
- Other types of exocrine tumors: Squamous cell carcinomas, adenosquamous, undifferentiated carcinomas, and signet ring cell carcinomas are a few less frequent exocrine tumors.
- Carcinoma of the ampulla of Vater: It begins in the ampulla of Vater, the part in which the bile duct and pancreatic duct intersect and empty into the small intestine. Although it is not entirely included in the pancreatic cancer group, this cancer type is managed similarly.
Benign and Other Types of Pancreatic Growth
Not all pancreatic growths are malignant; some are merely benign, but others, if unchecked, may progress to cancer. Some of the common pancreatic growth or benign you might experience are:
- Serous cystic neoplasms (SCNs): These tumors have cysts that are filled with fluid. SCNs are typically benign, and most don’t require treatment unless they get large or manifest symptoms.
- Solid pseudopapillary neoplasms (SPNs): These are slow-growing cancers that only affect women. They can spread to other body parts if they are not surgically treated.
- Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs): Are benign tumors that grow in the pancreatic ducts. If left untreated, these tumors that produce mucin and occasionally progress to malignancy over time.
- Mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs): Similar to SPNs, this kind of pancreatic tumor primarily affects women and grows slowly. They are described as having cysts filled with mucin, a jelly-like substance. These tumors are routinely removed through surgery even though they are not cancerous because some of them have the potential to develop into cancer if left untreated.
Common Signs & Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
As mentioned earlier, pancreatic cancer commonly goes undiagnosed in the early stages because it doesn’t exhibit any signs. This illness develops symptoms once it has become exceedingly large and has spread outside the pancreas. Here are the common signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer:5
Jaundice is one of the common signs and symptoms that might show that you have pancreatic cancer. This pancreatic cancer symptom can more frequently be brought on by a pancreatic malignancy that plugs the liver bile duct.6 Some signs of jaundice include dark-colored urine, and as bilirubin levels in the blood increase, the urine turns brown. Additionally, light-colored stool may be a symptom that the bile duct is clogged, or those pancreatic enzymes cannot reach the intestine to aid digestion.
Other signs of jaundice include itchy skin, yellow skin, and yellow eyes. Jaundice is not frequently caused by pancreatic cancer. Other factors are more frequent, including hepatitis, gallstones, and other liver and bile duct conditions.
Pain on the Back or Belly
You should get medical assistance if you have ongoing, severe back, abdominal pain, or stomach discomfort since there is a greater likelihood that you will develop pancreatic cancer. A growing tumor in the pancreas or tail can start pushing on other body organs, causing discomfort. In particular, the expanding tumor frequently spreads to the nerves near the pancreas, resulting in back pain.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
Though it is an uncommon symptom, people with type 2 diabetes frequently develop or increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.7 This owes to pancreatic tumors damaging the cells that produce insulin. You can have symptoms like thirst, hunger, and frequent urination.
Nausea and vomiting
It may be difficult for food to flow through the far end of the stomach because pancreatic cancer typically presses against it and partially blocks it. As a result, cancer symptoms in the patient include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain following meals.
Enlargement in the Gallbladder
As pancreatic cancer spreads, it stops the bile duct, causing it to flood with bile and forcing the gallbladder to expand. If cancer extends to the liver, it can also lead to liver enlargement.
Blood Clots in a Large Vein
A blood clot in a large vein is also one of the common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. This condition may show signs like pain, redness, and swelling in the affected leg. It can also lead to chest pain because the clot may extend to the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. Most blood clots result from other things; thus, having a blood clot is not obvious that you have pancreatic cancer.
All these signs and symptoms can be caused by factors other than cancer. However, always check with your provider to ensure you manage and treat your condition.
Classification of Pancreatic Cancer Stages
Following a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, your healthcare professionals will stage your condition to determine how far along the disease is. They usually utilize the TNM system to do the staging since it helps identify the severity of cancer and the best course of pancreatic cancer treatment. Doctors use standard treatments and new pancreatic cancer treatment to help increase survival rates. Other than that, the staging also helps in analyzing survival statistics. Stages of pancreatic cancer classification involve:8
Pancreatic cancer stage 0 is defined as (Tis, N0, M0), indicating that it has not yet spread outside the duct. Doctors describe it as having cancer in situ.
This pancreatic cancer stage is defined by:
- Stage IA: The pancreatic cancer is approximately 2 cm or smaller. It is stated as (T1, N0, M0) because it has not yet spread to lymph nodes or other body organs.
- Stage IB: A tumor that exceeds 2 cm is developing in the pancreas but has not spread to lymph nodes or other body parts (T2, N0, M0).
Stage IIA entails:
- The tumor exceeds 4 cm and has grown beyond the pancreas.
- It is indicated as (T3, N0. M0), meaning it has not reached the nearby lymph nodes, arteries, veins, or other body organs.
Stage IIB is described as:
- A tumor of any size has not reached the nearby veins or arteries.
- The tumor has extended to 1 to 3 regional lymph nodes, not yet to other body parts, hence stated as (T1, T2, or T3, N2, M0).
This stage is described by either of the following conditions:
- (T1, T2, or, T3, N2, M0) showing that a tumor of any size has grown to 4 or more regional lymph nodes without spreading to the nearby veins, arteries, or other body parts.
- (T4, any N, M0) implying that a tumor of any size has grown and extended to the nearby veins and arteries and may also spread to regional lymph nodes without spreading to other body parts.
This stage involves any cancer metastasizing to different bodily sections (any T, any N, M1).
Other Additional Classifications
- TX: The primary tumor cannot be evaluated because of lacking details.
- T0: No signs of a primary tumor are present.
- NX: The regional lymph nodes cannot be evaluated because the information is lacking
Pancreatic cancer may also be recurring, meaning it reappears after treatment. Patients in this condition must undergo additional testing to determine the degree of the recurrence. These examinations and scans frequently resemble those used for the initial diagnosis.
What Is the Survival Rate of Pancreatic Cancer?
Generally, the 5-year general survival rate for people in the US is approximately 11.9 However, based on other elements, such as stages of the illness, it can either reduce or increase. However, the severity of the condition can decrease or worsen depending on other factors. For instance, the 5-year survival rate is 42% after therapy if you are diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer. If pancreatic cancer extends to other nearby body organs, it is approximately 14%.
Immunity Therapy Center Helps You Treat Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer can be treated in several ways. At Immunity Therapy Center, we have a team of committed and experienced healthcare professionals prepared to assess your health and offer the best course of action. Feel free to get in touch with us, call, or schedule an appointment to learn more about our pancreatic cancer treatment options.
Written By: Dr. Pablo Orozco
Dr. Pablo Orozco is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.
Dr. Orozco has been a treating physician at the Immunity Therapy Center for more than 3 years providing daily on site patient care. He works with patients on a daily basis and guides them through the treatment process. Dr. Orozco’s passion for Alternative Cancer Treatments along with his commitment to patient care is key to insure that our patients have the best experience and results possible.
- American Cancer Society. “Key Statistics for Pancreatic Cancer.” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
- American Cancer Society. “What Is Pancreatic Cancer?” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/what-is-pancreatic-cancer.html
- American Cancer Society. “Key Statistics for Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor.” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-neuroendocrine-tumor/about/key-statistics.html
- Rawla, Prashanth, Tagore Sunkara, and Vinaya Gaduputi. “Epidemiology of pancreatic cancer: global trends, etiology and risk factors.” World journal of oncology 10.1 (2019): 10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6396775/
- American Cancer Society. “Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer.” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html
- Mayo Clinic. “Pancreatic Cancer.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pancreatic-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20355421
- Li, Donghui. “Diabetes and pancreatic cancer.” Molecular carcinogenesis 51.1 (2012): 64-74.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3238796/
- Cancer.Net. “Pancreatic Cancer: Stages.” https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/pancreatic-cancer/stages
- Cancer.Net. Pancreatic Cancer: Statistics. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/pancreatic-cancer/statistics
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.