Pancreatic Cancer - Medical Malpractice Lawyers

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Pancreatic Cancer - Medical Malpractice

Pancreatic cancer is a cancer of the pancreatic gland, which is an abdominal organ sitting beneath the liver and the stomach. It is a multifunctional gland, including exocrine function, which is the digestive functions of the gland, and the endocrine function, which regulates the blood sugar of the body. Glucose is allowed to be metabolized in the cells by means of insulin, a hormone that puts insulin into the cells for energy and makes glucose form the storage form, called glycogen in the liver.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are vague in the beginning, such as weight loss, vague abdominal pain and fatigue. It is only when you have abdominal swelling or severe pain from bowel obstruction that you seek medical care and attention. Pancreatic cancer is a deadly form of cancer in which few people live past one year and even fewer people live past five years. It is a very aggressive form of cancer.

Signs and symptoms typical of advanced cancer include severe weight loss, jaundice from bile duct obstruction, pain radiating from front to back, poor appetite, depression and the formation of blood clots. These need medical attention immediately as the cancer is probably advanced at this time.

The pancreas is normally a six inch long organ that looks like a long tube with a bulge at one end. Pancreatic cancer is cancer that forms in one of the cells of the gland. DNA changes in the cell and causes it to replicate out of control. The tumor eventually spreads beyond the border of the pancreas and gets on the omentum and within the confines of the biliary system. Cancers of the pancreas are called adenocarcinomas. Rarely, endocrine cancers of the pancreas can occur that affect the Islets of Langherhans.

Those with risk factors of pancreatic cancer include age greater than 60 years, being obese, having chronic pancreatitis from alcoholism, being African-American and having a family history of diabetes or pancreatic cancer. Smokers also carry a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

There are many complications of pancreatic cancer. These include the formation of jaundice from blockage of the biliary ducts. Doctors treat this through placing a stent through the biliary duct blocked by the pancreatic cancer. Doctors can also do radiation to stop the pancreas from pushing on painful nerves. A bowel obstruction can occur if the pancreas blocks part of the small or large intestine. Food cannot pass through the bowel and there is swelling, vomiting or pain. Weight loss happens because of the nausea and vomiting as well as because of the poor appetite and the increase metabolic rate of the pancreatic tumor.

The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is made through a CT scan or MRI scan of the abdomen, which can show the tumor easily. Irregularities of the pancreas can be visualized and the cancer diagnosed. An ERCP, which is an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, uses a camera to look into the pancreatic duct. Biopsies can be taken via an ERCP and dye studies can be done to further define the pancreatic outline. Open procedures can biopsy the pancreas and can easily show the pancreatic tumor. The pancreas is usually not removed because it does not affect mortality rate.

Even patients with stage I pancreatic cancer do poorly. Staging is done via a laparoscope that looks at where the tumour has spread. The CT scan, MRI scan and plain films can also detect where the cancer is and can determine the stage of the disease. Tumour markers are assessed, including the CA19-9 tumour marker for pancreatic cancer.

Treatment of pancreatic cancer is difficult. The portion of the pancreas that contains cancer is removed. The Whipple procedure takes off the head of the pancreas and the duodenum, the stomach and small intestines being attached to one another. Other portions of the pancreas can be taken away if the cancer is not in the head of the pancreas. There is chemotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, along with radiation in some cases. Targeted drug therapy has been defined for pancreatic cells that prevents cancer cell growth.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here