Pancreatic Cancer and genetics


Among the other lesser known types of cancers is pancreatic cancer. It is found in 1 per 100,000 people every year as opposed to the 80 cases per 100,000 people diagnosed by breast cancer which is one the most common cancer types in women.

Out of 232,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2002, 227,000 died by 2010, around the world. It is a fast growing and aggressive disease in which the death occurs within five years of the disease diagnosis.

Compared to the West, pancreatic cancer is less common in India, however, in the last couple of years, the rate of cancer cases has gone up. Almost all the cases diagnosed are in the last stage and chances of survival are zero. This cancer is usually found in old-age people.

Image credits -diseasesdata.com
Image credits -diseasesdata.com

Symptoms

By the time cancer is large, it is already grown outside the pancreas and then the symptoms start showing Cancer tumor is generally located on the head of pancreas – an organ that breaks down the food. So the cancer at the head causes symptoms such as jaundice, weight loss, itching, nausea,vomiting, dark urine, back pain, and abdominal pain. Pancreatic cancer in the tail or body of the pancreas generally causes belly and/or back pain and weight loss. Usually, cancers in head of the pancreas show symptoms earlier than the cancers in body or tail.

Pancreatic cancers are of two types – adenocarcinoma and neuroendocrine tumor. Steve Jobs was affected by neuroendocrine tumor – a rare form that is reported in just 5% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at a later stage in 89-90 percent cases and in such cases the patient can survive only for18-24 months.

Genetic causes of pancreatic cancer

Inheritance of cancer is one of the causes of pancreatic cancer. Inherited gene mutations are generally passed from parent to child. These mutated genes cause around 10% of pancreatic cancers along with other cancers. Familial pancreatitis is caused by mutations in the gene PRSS1. These mutations and risk factors can be identified using genetic testings like Hereditary Cancer Screening.

DNA mutations in cancer genes often occur after you are born. Most of these cancer causing mutations are after birth rather than being inherited. These acquired mutations sometimes result from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. E.g. those found in tobacco smoke.

The risk factors like changes in the genes that cause cancer causing syndromes can be recognised by genetic testing.

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and anticancer drugs are some of the treatments for pancreatic cancer that may increase the lifespan of the patients.

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Risk factors of Melanoma Skin Cancer


Among many other types of cancer, skin cancer- and melanoma in particular is highly ignored type of cancer in India. Though it is as fatal as other cancers, very less is known and researched about it. The symptoms are very hard to find and thus, treatment further takes a longer time and it gets out of control. However, it is very important to know the risk factors of the disease. Let us take a look-

  1. Ultraviolet light exposure

UV rays exposure is considered as the major risk factor for melanomas. Exposure to harsh sunlight for a long time results in UV ray exposure. Even though UV rays are a very small part of sunrays, they damage the skin cells. When the damage affects the DNA of genes, they cause skin cancer.  Though not popular in India, sun lamps and tanning beds used for artificial tanned skin are also the sources of UV rays.

When there are frequent sunburns in an early age, it results into development of melanoma on chest and back.

Image credits - tipperarytinting
Image credits – tipperarytinting
  1. Weakened immune system

Healthy immune system is very important in fighting any diseases and overall well-being. However, people with weak immune systems because of certain diseases or treatments have increased risk of developing many cancers, like melanoma.

For example, when patients get an organ transplants, they are usually given medicines that help prevent them from rejecting the new organ. Those medicines weaken their immune system that increases their risk of developing melanoma. People infected with HIV also have an increased risk for melanoma.

  1. Family history of melanoma and genetic factor

If any of your close relative (first-degree) has suffered from melanoma, your risk of getting it is higher than the general population. Close relatives include – parent, siblings, or child. Almost 10% have a family history of melanoma out of all the cases of the disease. This can happen due to the common lifestyle shared among the family members or specific genetic mutations among the family line or combination of both the factors.

  1. Personal history of skin cancers or recurrence

Recurrence of melanoma affects about 5% of the total melanoma patients. It is possible than it occurs again after the first one has been treated. The people who earlier had other types of skin cancer also have an increased risk of melanoma.

Image credits – ascenddermatology.com
  1. Moles

A mole is a pigmented tumor. Babies are not usually born with moles; they often begin to appear in children and young adults. Most moles will never cause any problems, but a person who has many moles is more likely to develop melanoma.

Atypical moles (Dysplastic nevi) look a little like normal moles but also have a few characteristics of melanoma. They are usually bigger than the other moles and have abnormal size and/or shape. Dysplastic nevi is hereditery. Most dysplastic nevi never become cancer. People with above condition have highest risk of melanoma so it’s recommended that they go through regular skin check-ups.

Sometimes, congenital nevi are removed through surgery so the chance of those becoming cancer minimizes.

  1. Age factor

Older people are more likely to get melanoma; though it is also found among younger generation. It is one of the commonest cancers found in patients younger than 30 years of age. Usually, the hereditary melanoma occurs at an early age.

  1. Xeroderma pigmentosum

Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is a rare condition that destroys ability of skin cells to repair their damaged DNA. It is inherited. People with this condition have a greater risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers when they are young, especially on sun-exposed areas of their skin.

Preventive tests like Hereditary screening panel can help to detect the risks of melanoma.

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