Pancreas: The pancreas is a long, flat gland that sits tucked behind the stomach in the upper abdomen. The pancreas produces enzymes that help digestion and hormones that help regulate the way your body processes sugar (glucose).
It can occur as acute pancreatitis or pancreatitis can occur as chronic pancreatitis, which is pancreatitis that occurs over many years. Mild cases of pancreatitis may go away without treatment, but severe cases can cause life-threatening complications.
Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas, irritating the cells of your pancreas and causing inflammation. With repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis, damage to the pancreas can occur and lead to chronic pancreatitis. Scar tissue may form in the pancreas, causing loss of function. A poorly functioning pancreas can cause digestion problems and diabetes.
Acute pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- Abdominal pain that feels worse after eating
- Rapid pulse
- Tenderness when touching the abdomen
Chronic pancreatitis signs and symptoms include:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Oily, smelly stools (steatorrhea)
Factors that increase your risk of pancreatitis include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Research shows that heavy alcohol users (people who consume four to five drinks a day) are at increased risk of pancreatitis.
- Cigarette smoking: Smokers are on average three times more likely to develop chronic pancreatitis, compared with non-smokers. The good news is quitting smoking decreases your risk by about half
- Obesity: You’re more likely to get pancreatitis if you’re obese.
- Family history of pancreatitis: The role of genetics is becoming increasingly recognized in chronic pancreatitis. If you have family members with the condition, your odds increase — especially when combined with other risk factors.
Pancreatitis can cause serious complications, including:
- Pseudocyst. Acute pancreatitis can cause fluid and debris to collect in cyst-like pockets in your pancreas. A large pseudocyst that ruptures can cause complications such as internal bleeding and infection.
- Infection. Acute pancreatitis can make your pancreas vulnerable to bacteria and infection. Pancreatic infections are serious and require intensive treatment, such as surgery to remove the infected tissue.
- Kidney failure. Acute pancreatitis may cause kidney failure, which can be treated with dialysis if the kidney failure is severe and persistent.
- Breathing problems. Acute pancreatitis can cause chemical changes in your body that affect your lung function, causing the level of oxygen in your blood to fall to dangerously low levels.
- Diabetes. Damage to insulin-producing cells in your pancreas from chronic pancreatitis can lead to diabetes, a disease that affects the way your body uses blood sugar.
- Malnutrition. Both acute and chronic pancreatitis can cause your pancreas to produce fewer of the enzymes that are needed to break down and process nutrients from the food you eat. This can lead to malnutrition, diarrhoea and weight loss, even though you may be eating the same foods or the same amount of food.
- Pancreatic cancer. Long-standing inflammation in your pancreas caused by chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer.
B. Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer happens when uncontrolled cell growth begins in a part of the pancreas. Tumors develop, and these interfere with the way the pancreas works.
Cancer can affect either the endocrine or the exocrine glands in the pancreas.
Substances that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer include certain:
- chemicals used in metal refining
When the body comes into contact with a carcinogen, free radicals form. These damage cells and affect their ability to function normally. The result can be cancerous growths.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Exocrine pancreatic cancer: Tumors that affect the exocrine functions – The exocrine glands produce juices, or enzymes, that enter the intestines and help digest fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. These make up most of the pancreas.
Endocrine pancreatic cancer: Tumors that affect the endocrine functions of the pancreas are called neuroendocrine or islet-cell tumors. These are fairly uncommon. – The endocrine glands are small clusters of cells known as the islets of Langerhans. They release the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. There, they manage blood sugar levels. When they are not working properly, the result is often diabetes.
Note: Pancreatic cancers affect men than often than women.