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It is estimated that in 2012, approximately 1 out of every 76 people in the United States will develop pancreatic cancer. This adds up to about 44,000 people, making pancreatic cancer one of the more common types of cancer today. Not only is pancreatic cancer in the top ten most common forms of cancer, but it is the fourth deadliest cancer in the U.S. The reason for this is that the cancer can spread quickly in the early stages before any symptoms have been detected. This year alone, it is thought that 37,000 will die from this form of cancer. Pancreatic cancer affects both men and women equally, but most of those who suffer from it are over the age of 45.
What exactly is pancreatic cancer? Simply put, it is exactly how it sounds: cancer of the pancreas. The pancreas is part of the digestive system and is classified as a glandular organ. The pancreas has two main functions which are digestive and hormonal. It creates “juice” which helps the body absorb nutrients in the digestion process. The digestive enzymes in this juice also help to break down proteins and carbohydrates. In regards to the pancreas hormonal function, it creates important hormones like insulin, somatostatin, glucagon, and more. The pancreas is located in the upper middle portion of the abdomen and is made up of five main parts: the head, the tail, the body, the neck, and the uncinate process.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Understanding the important functions the pancreas is responsible for makes it easier to understand why cancer of the pancreas is so dangerous and deadly. As seen above, the pancreas has two main functions. Depending on which function of the pancreas is affected, this will determine how the cancer is classified. Exocrine pancreatic cancer is cancer that affects the part of the pancreas that aids in digestion. In 95% of cases of exocrine pancreatic cancer, the patient is suffering from pancreatic adenocarcinoma, but there are other types of exocrine pancreatic cancers as well. The other main type of cancer is endocrine pancreatic cancer. These types of cancer are not as common, but they are serious because they affect the hormones in the body. The tumors arise in certain cells and so may only effect the production of one type of hormone.
What causes pancreatic cancer and how can it be prevented? When cells in the pancreas begin to grow abnormally, it can become a malignant tumor. What causes this abnormal cell growth in the cells, however, is unknown. Studies have shown that a factor which can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer is smoking cigarettes. In fact, those who smoke cigarettes are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as those who do not smoke. The development of pancreatic cancer has also been linked to diabetes as well as family medical history. As to preventing this cancer, the medical field has not been able to determine a way to effectively avoid it.
Diagnosing & Treating Pancreatic Cancer
If a person suspects that they are suffering from pancreatic cancer, their doctor will first perform a physical examination. After this has taken place, imaging tests may be given in order to be able to examine the tissue in the pancreas more thoroughly. Ultrasounds, endoscopic ultrasounds, or CT scanning may be chosen in these cases. The surest way to determine if someone has pancreatic cancer is by administering a biopsy. This does not have to be an invasive surgery; a needle can remove an adequate tissue sample to allow the doctor to detect the presence of cancer.
Once it has been shown that a person is suffering from pancreatic cancer, treatment can begin. There are several options for treating this type of cancer including radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy. Surgery is beneficial in these cases because it can help reduce the severity of the symptoms as well as cure the cancer. In cases where pancreatic cancer is not curable, palliative care may be chosen as a way to help the person be comfortable.
Contact a Long Island Medical Malpractice Lawyer!
In order to have the best possible chance of recovering from pancreatic cancer, it needs to be caught and diagnosed while it is in its early stages. This will not be possible unless the doctor is vigilant and careful in running the proper tests and ensuring that every possibility is investigated. If you or a loved one suffered from pancreatic cancer and you believe that a medical error was involved in your case, please contact our team at the Law Offices of Joseph M. Lichtenstein, PC as soon as possible.