What is pancreatic cancer?
The word “cancer” means an uncontrolled and unregulated growth of cells. When cancer starts in the pancreas, it is called pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is an organ located in the upper left abdomen, behind the stomach. This organ serves several important functions, particularly regulating digestion and blood sugar levels. The pancreas has four main parts: head, neck, body and tail. Almost 75 percent of all pancreatic cancers occur within the head or neck of the pancreas, 15 to 20 percent occur in the body of the pancreas and 5 to 10 percent occur in the tail. When cancer develops in the pancreas, the rapidly-dividing cancer cells form a mass or tumor that can spread to other sites in the body. The cancerous mass deprives the normal cells of nutrition and space, causing a disturbance in the functioning of the pancreas.
Is pancreatic cancer back pain constant?
Pain in the upper abdomen and back is commonly seen in those who have pancreatic cancer. The back pain is generally not constant. It may come and go in most people. The back pain tends to become more frequent or persistent when the disease advances. The pain is generally felt as a vague discomfort in the abdomen spreading to the back. Back pain varies from person to person. Some may not feel any back pain. Back pain tends to worsen after eating or lying down. There may be some pain relief when sitting and bending forward.
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer may be overlooked because they are quite non-specific and subtle until advanced stages. Besides back pain, other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unintended weight loss
- Abdominal pain often felt in the midline, sometimes spreading to the back
- Loss of appetite
- Change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation)
- Diabetes mellitus onset within the previous year
- Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes)
- Clay-colored stools
- Pruritus (itching)
- Mood changes, especially depression
- Abdominal distension or bloating
- Malaise (feeling sick)
- Enlarged lymph nodes or glands in the neck, armpit or groin
- A small mass felt in the abdomen (which is the enlarged gallbladder)
What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer can affect anyone. The presence of certain risk factors, however, makes someone more vulnerable to get the disease. Nonetheless, the presence of risk factors does not mean that the person will surely get the disease. Likewise, the absence of risk factors does not make one immune from getting pancreatic cancer.
Some of the major risk factors for pancreatic cancer include
- Non-modifiable risk factors: These include the risk factors that are not in one’s control and they cannot be changed. They include
- Age: Pancreatic cancer risk increases as a person grows older. Most people affected by this cancer are older than 45 years of age with almost 75 percent of patients being at least 65 years old.
- Gender: The number of pancreatic cancer cases is higher in males than in females.
- Race: African-Americans seem to be at a higher risk than Caucasians.
- Genetic syndromes: Certain inherited conditions, such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, may increase the risk.
- Family history: A history of pancreatic cancer in a parent, child or sibling may increase the risk of the disease although most patients diagnosed with the condition do not have a positive family history.
- Modifiable risk factors: These include the risk factors that a person can control or change. They include
- Body weight: Pancreatic cancer risk is higher in overweight and obese women than those with a normal weight.
- Tobacco: Tobacco use in any form, whether smoking or chewing, raises pancreatic cancer risk.
- Diabetes: Pancreatic cancer risk is higher in people with diabetes mellitus, particularly type 2 diabetes.
- Alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption may cause long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis), which increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: These include the chemicals used in metalworking and dry cleaning industries.
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