Pancreatic cancer is the most severe and aggressive cancer worldwide and one of the world deadliest cancers. It is among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths leading to the deaths of over 300,000 people every year.
About World Pancreatic Cancer Day
World Pancreatic Cancer Day has been around since 2013 to help create awareness and understanding about this deadly illness among the public, the medical community and governments.
It aims at bringing greater attention to pancreatic cancer which will allow for investment and more interest in this disease which will in turn result in more people being diagnosed early in time for surgery which is the only potential cure currently.
Focus of 2018 WPCD
Demand Better is the 2018 theme for WPCD which is aimed at doing exactly that; demanding better for patients, for survival.
Few people know about this cancer and by know, it means not just having heard about it but being aware of its earl symptoms which help in early diagnosis. That is why this theme is an important focus this year; to advocate for greater urgency in defeating pancreatic cancer.
Better progress starts with early detection.
What to look out for
The chances of survival are highly based on how early pancreatic cancer is detected so as to allow for treatment and getting the support that people with pancreatic cancer need to survive this deadly disease.
Some of the early symptoms of this cancer are:
- Abdominal pain which exudes to the back,
- Back pain,
- Bloating; feeling full faster or an uncomfortable abdominal swelling, and
- Vomiting, among others.
As the cancer progresses, other more severe symptoms may be experienced, including:
- Elevated blood sugar,
- Unexplained weight loss,
- Loss of appetite,
- Depression, and
Pancreatic cancer is sometimes referred to as the silent disease because in most cases it does not exhibit any symptoms until it has progressed. It is therefore, very important to listen to your body to realise any changes that may come up and when you do, do not ignore them.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment
After diagnosis, the cancer is staged as follows:
- Stage 0: The cancer has not spread and even though it is present on the top layers of the cells in the ducts of the pancreas, it is not visible on imaging tests.
- Stage I: In this stage, the cancer is limited to the pancreas and it is not more than 2 centimetres.
- Stage II: The cancer is more than 4 centimetres and is limited to the pancreas or has spread beyond the pancreas or to the lymph nodes near the pancreas.
- Stage III: In this stage, the cancer is wide spread, meaning it has expanded into the nearby blood vessels or nerves, but it has not yet metastasised.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread to distant organs.
This staging helps the doctor or specialist to categorise the cancer resectable, unresectable or metastatic which acts as the guide for which treatment to be used.
- Resectable: This is when the cancer has not spread and if it has, not far. The treatment used include:
1. Surgery which is done to remove the tumour before other treatments can be started. The different surgeries that can be done are:
a) Pancreaticoduodenectomy: It involves removing the head of the surgery and at times the body, some lymph nodes, part of the stomach and small intestine, the gallbladder and bile duct. This surgery is also known as the whipple procedure.
b) Distal Pancreatectomy: It involves removal of the tail and portion of the body but not the head of the pancreas.
c) Total pancreatectomy: Removal of the entire pancreas and the spleen.
2. Chemotherapy: Using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells.
3. Radiotherapy: Using high energy radiation beams to kill cancer cells.
4. Chemo and radiotherapy are also used to:
a) shrink the pancreatic cancer tumour before surgery improving resection chances
b) delay or prevent the cancer from returning after surgery
- Unresectable: Also, locally advanced and describes pancreatic cancer that has grown into major blood vessels making it difficult to remove the tumour safely. Therefore, nonsurgical therapies are used; that is chemotherapy which can be used alone or in combination with radiotherapy.
- Metastatic: The pancreatic cancer has spread to other organs and surgery cannot be used to remove it unless it will ease or control some symptoms like jaundice, pain and gastric outlet obstruction. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can also be used to relief and improve symptoms caused by the cancer.
- Palliative care: Also referred to as supportive care, this is what is offered to patients with wide spread pancreatic cancer to improve their quality of life. Some of the treatments are:
1. Use of antidepressants to treat depression which is common in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer,
2. Procedures to relieve symptoms; for example, bile duct stents to relieve jaundice.
The fight against the deadliest cancer starts with early diagnosis which may be impossible without early diagnosis. So spread the word this world pancreatic cancer day and save lives.