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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