Pancreatic Cancer (cont.)
Francis W. Nugent, MD
Dr. F.W. Nugent is a medical oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal cancers with a special interest in pancreatic cancer. Dr. Nugent graduated from Middlebury College with a bachelors degree in religion before graduating from Albany Medical College. He presently serves as vice-chairman of medical oncology at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Keith E. Stuart, MD
Dr. Keith E. Stuart is a medical oncologist specializing in the study and treatment of cancers involving the gastrointestinal tract, with a special interest in tumors involving the liver. He was educated at Harvard University (graduating magna cum laude) and Albert Einstein College of Medicine and did his medical training at the New England Deaconess Hospital.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
In this Article
- Pancreatic cancer facts
- What does a pancreas do?
- What is cancer?
- What is pancreatic cancer? What are the types of pancreatic cancer?
- What are pancreatic cancer causes and risk factors?
- What are pancreatic cancer symptoms and signs?
- How is the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer made?
- How do health care professionals determine the stage of pancreatic cancer?
- What is the treatment for resectable pancreatic cancer?
- What is the treatment for locally advanced unresectable pancreatic cancer?
- What is the treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer?
- What are the side effects of pancreatic cancer treatment?
- What is the survival rate with pancreatic cancer?
- What research is being done on pancreatic cancer?
- Is complimentary or alternative medicine effective in pancreatic cancer treatment?
- Is it possible to prevent pancreatic cancer?
- Where can people get support when coping with pancreatic cancer?
- Where can people find additional information about pancreatic cancer?
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
What is cancer?
Every second of every day within our body, a massive process of destruction and repair occurs. The human body is made up of trillions of cells and every day billions of cells wear out or are destroyed. Each time the body makes a new cell to replace one that is wearing out, the body tries to make a perfect copy of the cell that dies off, usually by having similar healthy cells divide into two cells because that dying cell had a job to do, and the newly made cell must be capable of performing that same function. Despite remarkably elegant systems in place to edit out errors in this process, the body makes tens of thousands of mistakes daily in normal cell division either due to random errors or from environmental pressure within the body. Most of these mistakes are corrected, or the mistake leads to the death of the newly made cell, and another new cell then is made. Sometimes a mistake is made that, rather than inhibiting the cell's ability to grow and survive, allows the newly made cell to grow in an unregulated manner. When this occurs, that cell becomes a cancer cell able to divide independent of the checks and balances that control normal cell division. The cancer cell multiplies, and a cancerous or malignant tumor develops.
Tumors fall into two categories: "benign" tumors and "malignant," or cancerous, tumors. So what is the difference? The answer is that a benign tumor grows only in the tissue from which it arises. Benign tumors sometimes can grow quite large or grow rapidly and cause severe symptoms. For example, a fibroid in a woman's uterus can cause bleeding or pain, but it will never travel outside the uterus, invade surrounding tissues or grow as a new tumor elsewhere in the body (metastasized). Fibroids, like all benign tumors, lack the capacity to shed cells into the blood and lymph systems and cannot travel to other places in the body and grow. A cancer, on the other hand, can shed cells from the original tumor that can float like dandelion seeds in the wind through the bloodstream or lymphatics, landing in tissues distant from the tumor, developing into new tumors in other parts of the body. This process, called metastasis, is the defining characteristic of a cancerous tumor. Pancreatic cancer, unfortunately, is a particularly good model for this process. Pancreatic cancers can metastasize early to other organs in this manner. They also can grow and invade adjacent structures directly, often rendering the surgical removal of the tumor impossible.
Cancers are named by the tissues from which the primary tumor arises. Hence, a lung cancer that travels to the liver is not a "liver cancer" but is described as metastatic lung cancer and a patient with a breast cancer that spreads to the brain is not described as having a "brain tumor" but rather as having metastatic breast cancer.
Get the latest treatment options.