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Cancer of the Pancreas
Cancer begins when cells grow and divide uncontrollably.
Normally, cells only divide to form new cells when the body needs them, and the body destroys old cells that are no longer functioning properly.
Mutations in cell DNA can cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, or may prevent old cells from dying when necessary.
The reasons these mutations occur are not known, but it is known that the mutations can either be inherited or acquired during life.
When extra cells accumulate and form a mass, it is called a tumor.
Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors arise when abnormal cells accumulate, but do not possess the ability to invade other tissues and organs.
This is why benign tumors are not cancerous.
However, they can cause health problems by placing pressure on nearby organs, blood vessels, or nerves.
Malignant tumors, often referred to as cancer, are abnormal cells that have the ability to invade other tissues and organs. When cancer cells metastasize, or break away from the original cancer site (primary tumor), new tumors can form in other parts of the body.
Cancer in the Pancreas
Cancer of the pancreas accounts for only about 2.4% of new cancer diagnoses each year yet it is the fourth most frequent cause of cancer death in both men and women.
In 2006, 33,730 people in the United States were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with an estimated five-year survival rate of 4.6%.
(American Cancer Society Facts and Figures 2006)
Pancreas and Cancer Estimate Deaths
Like many other forms of cancer, cancer in the pancreas can spread locally to blood vessels and surrounding organs such as the stomach and the small intestine. Cancer cells can also break away to affect more distant sites, such as the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes.
Cancer of the pancreas is one of the most challenging diseases physicians face today because it responds poorly to treatment and quickly spreads to surrounding organs.
Despite the fact that these secondary tumors affect sites other than the pancreas, they are still considered and treated as pancreatic cancer.
Pancreas and Cancer Survival Rate
Depending upon many factors, treatment of pancreatic cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Other sections of this website explain when and why the various treatment modalities are employed.