The month of November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, making it the ultimate time to cover the pancreas, its role in the body, and the specific type of cancer that affects this organ. Let’s cover the basics and take a look at how you can catch pancreatic cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body.
Where Is The Pancreas?
The pancreas is a fairly large organ, about six inches long, that sits just behind and below your stomach on the left-hand side of your body. This organ is connected to the liver and the gallbladder via bile ducts that empty into the first portion of the small intestine.
What Does The Pancreas Do?
The pancreas is an organ in the digestive system that has a few roles to play in the human body. First, specialized cells in the pancreas, the islets of langerhans, produce insulin一 you’re probably familiar with this blood sugar-regulating hormone. The pancreas responds to blood sugar levels in the body by either slowing down or ramping up the production of insulin.
In addition, the pancreas produces and releases glucagon, insulin’s counterpart. While insulin stimulates the uptake of sugar into the body’s cells (lowering serum blood sugar), glucagon stimulates the release from cells (raising serum blood sugar). The pancreas, then, is responsible for maintaining a balanced blood sugar level in the body.
Another one of the pancreas’s jobs is to secrete digestive enzymes like proteases to break down proteins, lipase to break down fats, and amylase to break down carbs. These enzymes are stored in the gallbladder and released into the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum) when you begin eating. These enzymes are critical to your digestive system; without them, you wouldn’t be able to absorb the nutrients from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
What Is Pancreatic Cancer?
Much like other cancers, pancreatic cancer is the result of random mutations, or mutations facilitated by external factors. These mutations affect the cell’s ability to regulate its own reproduction; when growth restriction is left unchecked, cancerous cells can become tumors. When malignant tumors are not treated, rogue cells can travel to other parts of the body, “infecting” other organs and tissues.
Signs of Pancreatic Cancer
- Trouble with stools: irregular, loose, or fatty
- Nausea and/or vomiting due to acute abdominal pain
- High, seemingly unregulated blood sugar
- Appetite issues and unexpected weight loss
- Jaundice, or an unnatural yellowing of the skin and eyes
What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?
There are a few risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer, including a high-fat diet, diabetes, smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol use, repeat incidences of pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation), and liver damage. The exact cause behind pancreatic cancer varies from patient to patient, but cancer itself is caused by mutations that facilitate unchecked cell reproduction. Some of these mutations can be avoided by following a healthy lifestyle, but some random mutations may still occur.
Pancreatic Cancer Screening in Manhattan
Just like with breast cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer, it’s important to be screened for pancreatic cancer, especially if it’s in your family history. Luckily, pancreatic cancer screening (a form of diagnostic imaging) isn’t uncomfortable; depending on certain factors, your doctor may recommend a CT/PET, MRI, or endoscopic ultrasound.
Do you have a family history of pancreatic cancer? If so, make sure to talk to your doctor about regular screenings一 and keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms mentioned above! Schedule an appointment with the radiology experts at Rosetta Radiology today.