PANCREATIC CANCER

What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a glandular organ, approximately 15 cm in length and of elongated shape, located between the stomach and the spine. It consists of three parts: the head (the part on the right, touching the duodenum), the body (the central part), and the tail (on the left, extending towards the spleen).
According to its function, it is defined as:

  • Exocrine pancreas (head), producing enzymes to help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  • Endocrine pancreas, producing hormones (insulin, glucagon, amylin, and somatostatin) that regulate blood sugar levels.

What is a prostate cancer?
It is a disease in which pancreatic cells grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner. The majority of pancreatic cancers (approximately 70%) originates in the exocrine pancreas and is called pancreatic adenocarcinomas. Tumors originating in the endocrine pancreas are called neuroendocrine tumors. Early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer is uncommon due to the rapid spreading of the pancreatic cancer cells to surrounding organs (e.g., liver and lungs) and lymph nodes, to the fact that symptoms become manifest only when the neoplasia reaches a significant size, and to the complex role of the pancreas in its interactions with other organs located in the abdomen. Hence, this type of cancer is one of the hardest to treat.

Approximately 13,700 new cases were found in Italy in 2017, that is to say 4% of the newly-diagnosed tumors in both men and women. Smoking is a major risk factor for the onset of this disease, which for many years affected mainly man. Today that there are more female smokers, pancreatic cancer is one of the five most frequent tumors in women over 70 years of age.

Pancreatic cancer risk factors:

  • Age: the pancreatic cancer mainly strikes people between 50 and 80 years old, and is uncommon in people younger than 40 years.
  • Family history: the presence of pancreatic, colon, or mammal cancer episodes in the family can represent an additional risk factor.
  • Presence of other diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, chronic pancreatitis, rare genetic disease, and the von Hippel–Lindau disease, or a previous gastrectomy.
  • Obesity and a low-fiber diet and rich in fats and animal proteins.
  • Smoke is the risk factor most associated with this neoplasia. Smokers have a risk three times higher than non-smokers of developing a pancreatic cancer.

Therapies for the treatment of pancreatic cancer

  • Surgery: the best therapeutic option when the tumor is still localized and has not extended to the surrounding organs.
  • Chemotherapy: indicated when surgery is not a feasible option.
  • Radiotherapy: used when the neoplasia cannot be surgically removed, for the purpose of reducing as much as possible its local extension , and for symptomatic purposes in the event of disorders related to the involvement and infiltration of surrounding organs. At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Villa Maria we perform stereotactic radiotherapy and radiosurgery.