What You Need to Know about Pancreatic Cancer

What You Need to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreas cancer starts when abnormal cells develop and spread from the pancreas, an organ that aids in digestion and regulates blood sugar. Among the types of cancer, pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon, but it is regarded as one of the most aggressive cancers with high mortality rates around the world. This illness is also known for being very difficult to treat, unless detected very early and in the hands of a highly skilled and experienced pancreas cancer surgeon.

According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, in the last five years, pancreas cancer ranks as one of the top causes of cancer deaths in men (#5) and women (#6) in the country. In preparation for World Pancreatic Cancer Day this coming November, we bring to you key facts that you need to know about this disease:

  1. Pancreas cancer is dubbed as a silent yet aggressive disease, most often causing symptoms during the later stages when the risk of metastasis is high or when the disease is already incurable. In fact, more than 50% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed after the tumors have spread. As most patients have no or minimal symptoms, the cancer is very difficult to detect during the early phases when it is most treatable.
  2. Apart from having the ability to grow and spread rapidly to surrounding organs, pancreatic cancer is made even harder to treat due to the presence of thick, stromal tissues that envelop the tumor. This wound-like tissue is said to actively nourish tumor cells, making them more resistant to various cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
  3. Modern science has made it possible for the survival rate of pancreas cancer to improve over the years. However, the five- and ten-year survival rates for all stages of the cancer combined are still quite low at only 5% and 1%, respectively. Pancreatic surgery, which can be performed if the cancer has not spread outside the pancreas, can help increase the five-year survival rate to up to 20% to 25%.
  4. Though pancreatic cancer typically does not cause any worrying symptoms during its early stages, certain symptoms may be indicative of the condition and require immediate medical attention. These include jaundice, back pain, abdominal pain, new-onset of diabetes, poorly controlled diabetes, unexplained weight loss, dark urine and fatigue. Risk factors such as age, gender, race, family history, diabetes, obesity, family history of cancer and smoking also increase one’s chance of developing the cancer. Those who are at a higher risk of getting pancreas cancer are advised to undergo screening.
  5. Pancreatic cancer comes in two main types: exocrine pancreatic cancer and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, the former being the more common. Exocrine tumors like pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma develop in the ducts that transport juices that aid in digestion to the bile duct. Neuroendocrine tumors develop in the endocrine cells and are quite rare, developing in only small percentage of cases.

Digestive & Liver Surgery employs cutting-edge, minimally invasive medical and surgical techniques to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal and biliary conditions. Spearheaded by pancreas cancer surgeon Dr Victor Lee, the clinic offers procedures such as the whipple operation and laparoscopic pancreas cancer surgery. To schedule an appointment, call 6737-8878.