In light of Apple Inc. co-founder and CEO Steve Job’s death from complications of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic cancer expert, researcher and innovator Kimberly Kelly, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, can discuss this disease and its complications, which affects one in 72 people in the U.S.
Kelly is developing an imaging technique that could be used to detect pancreatic tumor cells before they metastasize, when treatment is most likely to be effective. She and her research team have identified a biomarker unique to pancreatic ductal carcinoma cells, which make up more than 90 percent of pancreatic tumors. They also have identified a peptide that effectively binds with the tumors but not to noncancerous cells.
The pancreas is a large organ located behind the stomach. It makes and releases enzymes into the intestines that help the body absorb foods, especially fats.
Hormones called insulin and glucagon, which help your body control blood sugar levels, are made in special cells in the pancreas called islet cells. Tumors can also occur in these cells, but they are called islet cell tumors.
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. It is more common in:
* People with diabetes
* People with long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis)
“If our imaging agent works,” Kelly says, “we would hopefully be able to detect precancerous or small lesions that can be removed to improve patient prognosis and outcomes.”
See also, “Detecting Pancreatic Cancer Before It’s Too Late.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, pancreatic cancer forms in the tissues of the pancreas, which is an organ located right behind the lower section of the stomach.
The pancreas releases enzymes, which assist the body’s digestive system. It also releases hormones, such as insulin, which specialize in regulating sugar metabolism. Since these functions are so internal, symptoms of pancreatic cancer don’t usually appear until well after its onset.
Even if the cancer is caught early, prognosis is often not hopeful. Pancreatic cancer tends to spread quickly and when it reaches an advanced stage, surgical removal is not possible.
Pancreatic cancer is found in two different variations. The first variation forms in the ducts of the pancreas and is referred to as adenocarcinoma or “exocrine tumors.” This form is the most common, affecting the duct-lining pancreatic cells, which assist in the production of digestive fluid.
The second variation, called endocrine cancer, forms in the pancreatic cells, which produce hormones. This variation is extremely rare.
Symptoms are not present until the cancer has advanced. They include upper abdominal pain that often spreads to the back, jaundice (noticed when the skin and whites of eyes take on a yellow hue), a decrease in appetite, weight loss, depression and the formation of blood clots. The Mayo Clinic recommends that a doctor visit be made when any combination of these symptoms occur, as they also explain a myriad of other conditions and diseases.
Source: University of Virginia