Metastatic Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma Symptoms, Signs & Treatment

What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a small, hockey stick-shaped gland located behind the stomach. The main jobs of the pancreas are to aid in food digestion and regulate blood sugar levels in the body. The pancreas produces enzymes such as amylase, lipase, trypsin and chymotrypsin to breakdown fats, carbohydrates, and proteins and maintains blood sugar levels by making two hormones: insulin and glucagon.

Pancreatic cancer occurs when pancreas cells change and multiply out of control resulting in a mass of abnormal tissue. Pancreatic cancer is usually not found until advanced stages because the pancreas is surrounded by other organs including the small intestine, liver, and spleen, and because early changes are asymptomatic and hard to detect.

What is metastatic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cancer (mPDAC)?

Metastatic Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (mPDAC) is a highly aggressive lethal form of pancreatic cancer that accounts for more than 90% of pancreatic cancer cases.   It is the most prevalent type of pancreatic neoplasm.  Typically mPDAC advances to this state because of either lack of early diagnosis or limited response to treatments.  

What are the stages of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is categorized into five different stages depending on the size and location of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread:

  • Stage 0: Also known as carcinoma in situ, Stage 0 is characterized by abnormal cells in the lining of the pancreas. The cells could become cancerous and spread to nearby tissue.
  • Stage 1: The tumor is in the pancreas.
  • Stage 2: The tumor is in the pancreas and has either spread to nearby tissues, organs, or lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: The cancer has spread to major blood vessels near the pancreas. It may have also spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant areas in the body, such as the liver, lungs, or abdominal cavity.

What is the Survival Rate of mPDAC

Metastatic pancreatic cancer is defined as Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Metastatic pancreatic cancer is not curable and cannot be completely removed by surgery.  

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer?

Most people don’t experience early symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer. As the disease progresses, however, people may notice symptoms of mPDAC like the following:

  • Upper abdominal pain that may spread to the back
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Light-colored stool
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Weight loss
  • Blood clots
  • Itchy skin
  • New or worsening diabetes
  • Nausea and vomiting

What are the available Treatment Options of Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer?

Note: the below are not an option for all patients with pancreatic cancer.

  • Surgical removal: The cancerous part of the pancreas (resection) is removed
  • Radiation therapy: High-speed energy used to kill the cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: This method uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: This method either activates or suppresses your immune system to fight the cancer.
  • Targeted therapy: This method uses drugs directed at blocking certain genes or proteins that help cancer grow.
  • Clinical trials: These are often experimental therapies in the early stages of testing
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