What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells within the body
Cancer is caused by changes in DNA (the genetic material that contains the instructions for all biochemical processes in the body), known as mutations. These mutations allow a cancer cell to replicate, bypassing the body's normal control mechanisms which would usually repair or destroy the damaged cell. It is unclear how or why these mutations occur, although some people can inherit them whilst others gain them through environmental exposure.
1 in 77 women and 1 in 55 men will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The most common form of pancreatic cancer is an abnormal uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas that begins in the pancreatic ducts and spreads into the body of the pancreas.
Cancer growth interferes with normal pancreatic function
As the cancer grows and swells in size, it compresses vital structures adjacent to the pancreas. If the growth is within the head of the pancreas, this ultimately results in interference with bile release and causes obstructive jaundice. As they grow, the cancer cells destroy surrounding normal pancreas tissue, and infiltrate into nearby nerves, blood vessels and the lymphatic system, where they may travel to distant sites. Once a cancer has lodged in another organ, such as the liver or lungs, this is known as metastasis.
The majority of pancreatic cancers are malignant
According to the Cancer Council of Australia, 1 in 77 women and 1 in 55 men will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the time they are 85 years of age. In comparison, 1 in 2 Australians will develop cancer while 1 in 5 will die from it.
The picture above shows what pancreatic cancer looks like under a microscope (left) compared to normal pancreas (right). This is what a pathologist sees when he or she examines pancreatic tissue which is removed after surgery for pancreatic cancer.