Overview of Pancreatic Cancer and Pancreatic Diseases
The pancreas is a glandular organ tucked deep in your abdomen behind the stomach. It is really two organs in one, the endocrine and exocrine pancreas. The endocrine pancreas helps to balance your blood sugar levels while the exocrine pancreas plays a vital role in the digestion of your food. The anatomy of the pancreas includes a head, neck, body, and tail. The head lies just to the right of the spinal column, and the neck, body and tail stretch toward the spleen in the left upper abdomen.
At the Saint Agnes Cancer Institute we evaluate and treat a variety of pancreatic diseases, including:
- Pancreatic tumors
- Pancreatic cysts
We take a multidisciplinary team approach to help you understand your diagnosis and your treatment options. Our expert team includes:
- Pancreatic Surgeons
- Medical and Radiation Oncologists
- General and Interventional Gastroenterologists
- Diagnostic and Interventional Radiologists
- Genetic Counselors
Pancreatic tumors originate from the endocrine cells and exocrine cells found inside the pancreas. Either type may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Pancreatic cysts are increasingly common and some have a high chance of harboring a cancer or precancerous area. While tumors that develop from endocrine cells are often benign, tumors that develop from exocrine cells are much more commonly malignant (cancer).
Because pancreatic cancer is often detected late in the growth process, it can be difficult to treat. Fortunately, Saint Agnes boasts some of the top doctors and surgeons in Maryland.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas gland. It is usually treated without surgery, but in some cases of very severe acute pancreatitis or unrelenting and severe chronic pancreatitis, surgical help is essential. Our expert pancreatic surgery team has experience with the full range of surgical treatments for pancreatitis.
Pancreatic cysts are common and may be found incidentally on tests done for other reasons or may cause symptoms leading to tests and imaging that may reveal their presence in your pancreas. There are many different kinds of pancreatic cysts. Some of these cysts have a high incidence of cancer and should be removed, whereas others are safe to observe without an operation. Figuring out which is which is complex and requires a careful evaluation. For a video on the treatment of pacreatic cysts click here.
What are the risk factors?
- Age. Pancreatic cancer is more prevalent in patients 55+.
- Race. According to the American Cancer Society, African American males are more susceptible to the disease.
- Poor diet
- Family history of pancreas cancer
What are the warning signs?
Common warning signs include pain in the abdomen, digestive problems and unintentional weight loss. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or eyes, may be an outward indicator of pancreatic cancer. See your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms.
How is the cancer detected?
Pancreas cancer can be difficult to detect early. If your doctor suspects you have cancer, he or she may order an imaging test such as a CT scan, MRI scan, or ultrasound. To learn more about detection methods click here.
How is the cancer treated?
Pancreatic cancer is typically treated through surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. All pancreas cancers are treated with a multidisciplinary approach:
Surgery is the most common method of treatment. Your surgeon may recommend removal the part of the pancreas that has the cancer or precancerous area. Some pancreatic operations can be done in a minimally invasive fashion, including laparoscopy.
The most common surgical treatment is called the Whipple procedure, which is done for cancers or precancerous areas in the head of the pancreas. In this operation, part of the pancreas, stomach, gallbladder, intestine and bile duct may be removed. For cancers or precancerous areas in the body or tail of the pancreas, a distal pancreatectomy is often performed. Both are complex procedures that require an experienced surgeon.
Chemotherapy is often used for pancreas cancer, sometimes before surgery, sometimes after, and sometimes both. Our multidisciplinary team will help you figure out which is right for you.
Radiation treatment is sometimes used to shrink the tumor before it can be removed with surgery. Similar to chemotherapy, radiation is sometimes used before and sometimes after surgery.
For more details about treatment, see our treatment methods section.
For more information on treatment options or any information regarding the Caner Institute at Saint Agnes Hospital please contact us at 1-855-726-2287 .
To find a physician please click here or call 1-866-690-9355.