The First Hormonal Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Among the main symptoms of pancreatic cancer are constant fatigue, sudden and unexplained weight loss, jaundice, pain in the area of the pancreas, among others.
Pancreatic cancer is a disease that affects both male and female patients of any age. However, it’s usually more common in older men.
Scientists have not yet determined the cause. However, they have identified several risk factors, including age, smoking, obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, among others.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is an elongated organ that lies behind the stomach and which carries out many important bodily functions.
The pancreas is made up of two types of cells:
- Endocrine cells: These are usually in the pancreatic islets. Essentially, they produce hormones that they directly release into the bloodstream. They normally produce insulin and glucagon, and are able to regulate the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
- Exocrine cells: On the other hand, these synthesize enzymes that travel to the duodenum through tiny ducts. They thus form the pancreatic duct. This then attaches to the bile duct (that comes from the liver) toward the small intestine. The enzymes they make aid in the digestion of certain nutrients such as lipids or fats.
Types of pancreatic cancer
Overall, there are two types of pancreatic cancer, depending on the type of cells that they affects:
- Exocrine pancreatic cancer: This is the most common type of pancreatic cancer. In most cases, it develops in the cells that produce digestive enzymes.
- Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (malignant or cancerous): These affect the pancreatic islet cells that produce hormones, and then release them directly into the bloodstream. We can differentiate between the different subtypes depending on the type of cell the cancer affects (see the most common symptoms).
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What are the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
AECC experts explain that, in its initial phase, people with pancreatic cancer don’t usually have symptoms.
However, as the disease progresses, several symptoms may occur, such as unexplained weight loss, jaundice, diabetes, pain in the pancreas area, constant fatigue, nausea and vomiting, among others.
We should clarify that the symptoms may vary depending on the type of pancreatic cancer that the patient presents.
Exocrine pancreatic cancer
- Tiredness, fatigue, and also general weakness.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Loss of appetite. This often leads to undesired weight loss.
- Increase in the size of the gallbladder and/or liver.
- Abdominal discomfort that may then spread to nearby areas (such as the back).
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin. This is because the cancer blocks the common bile duct and, as a result, bilirubin builds up.
- Bilirubin is a pigment produced by the liver that normally reaches the duodenum through this duct.
- Other related symptoms are darker urine and changes in stool characteristics (changes in its hue and texture).
Here are some of its hormonal symptoms:
- Changes in the texture of the patient’s fatty tissue. This is due to the incorrect release of pancreatic enzymes.
- Diabetes: In this case, the exocrine cells destroy the cells that synthesize insulin. Therefore, blood glucose levels rise and the characteristic symptoms of this disease manifest.
- Slight blood glucose levels alterations.
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Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (malignant or cancerous): These depend on the type of cell that developed the cancer:
- Gastrinoma: The disease manifests in the cells that produce gastrin and increases its production. Generally, this substance helps synthesize more acid in the stomach. This condition is known by the name Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
- Insulinoma: It affects the cells that produce insulin, which divide uncontrollably. It also causes hypoglycemia or low blood glucose levels.
- Glucagonoma: The cancer develops in the cells that produce glucagon. It causes hyperglycemia or elevated blood glucose levels.
- Somatostatinoma: Somatostatin normally helps regulate other hormones. This tumor can also alter the levels of this substance.
- PPoma: This is associated with an overproduction of pancreatic polypeptide (PP) which regulates the functions of the pancreas under normal conditions.
- VIPoma: It alters the cells that synthesize vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). The most notable symptom is prolonged diarrhea.
Once a person is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the doctor will then indicate the most appropriate treatment options. Depending on the case, the specialists will offer specific treatment, or different alternatives, to the patient. We should note that, in some cases, more than one type of treatment can be used to treat the patient.