Risk Factors And Symptoms Are Among The Important Facts To Know About Pancreatic Cancer
Pegasus home healthcare professionals in Verdugo City and elsewhere are experienced in assisting individuals coping with cancer. They care for patients in all stages of the disease. Our career home health care registered nurses share important facts they’ve learned about pancreatic cancer.
The pancreas is an organ located in the abdominal cavity. Although small in size, it plays a significant role in the digestive process. The pancreas produces several essential enzymes and hormones, including insulin.
Thousands of individuals in the U.S. develop pancreatic cancer annually. That’s around 3% of all incidences of cancer. More than 2/3 of the individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer don’t survive.
Types Of Pancreatic Cancer
Several kinds of cancer can develop in the pancreas. Most rarely occur. Among them are:
- Adenosquamous carcinoma
- Ampullary cancer
- Signet ring cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Undifferentiated carcinoma
- Undifferentiated carcinoma with giant cells
Patients with these have extremely poor rates of survival.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NET) grow in the cells that produce insulin. NET isn’t rare, but it occurs infrequently. Patients with NETs have a more favorable prognosis than other types.
By far, the most common type of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. The tumors grow in the cells of the ducts that transport digestive enzymes. It’s particularly aggressive and must be detected very early to prevent metastasis and improve survival rates.
Causes Of Pancreatic Cancers
The precise cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. Risk factors include:
- Age – older than 45
- Chronic pancreatitis – causes permanent damage
- Diabetes – both a risk factor and a symptom
- Exposure to toxic chemicals – often as part of the workplace environment
- Family history – sometimes due to genes, sometimes unknown
- Gender – men are slightly more at risk
- Genetics – inherited gene mutations
- Race – blacks have somewhat higher risk
Your patients cannot change these factors. Encourage them to visit their physicians regularly for testing. Those with family histories or genetic mutations are well-advised to seek genetic counseling.
Other risk factors are under the individual’s ability to change. These include obesity and smoking. The risk is reduced in individuals with diabetes and chronic pancreatitis if those conditions are treated.
Other potential risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise
- Poor dietary choices
Research on these factors is inconclusive, and studies are continuing.
Symptoms Of Pancreatic Cancer
Few incidences of pancreatic cancer of any type exhibit early symptoms. As the cancer progresses, the following symptoms may become noticeable:
- Changes in appetite
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Pain in abdomen and back
- Stool that’s lighter than normal
- Urine that’s darker than normal
- Weight loss that’s not due to change in diet
Your patient may experience recent-onset diabetes or become unable to keep existing diabetes under good control. Many of the symptoms occur with other illnesses. Some may be mild, or your patient may dismiss others.
As an in-home healthcare nurse, you may become aware of the symptoms as you spend quality time with your patient. The symptoms coupled with risk factors mean that your patient needs to seek medical attention.
Treatment For Pancreatic Cancer
Treatment for pancreatic cancer parallels most cancer treatments. It may involve chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, immunotherapy, targeted drugs, or a combination of treatments. The choice depends on factors such as:
- Location of tumor or tumors
- Overall health
- Patient preference
- The stage the cancer is in
Pancreatic cancer is often in the advanced stages before it’s diagnosed. In those instances, physicians may not recommend treatment, or patients may decide to forgo treatment.
The patient will need care and support whether or not they receive treatment. As a home health care nurse, you may serve as part of a palliative care team. Your goal continues to maintain quality of life for your patient.
Part of your care will involve family members. They may need you to help them understand what their loved one is enduring. Perhaps you will have to explain medical terms to your patient and their family.
Your patient will probably require emotional as well as physical care. Administering and monitoring medications will likely be among your responsibilities. As an advocate for your patient, you may be able to obtain relief for them from side effects.
It may be necessary to help with personal care and hygiene. Your Pegasus team includes a dietitian to help with ensuring good nutrition. You can also arrange for counseling for your patient and family members.
Some individuals prefer written material rather than verbal explanations. The American Cancer Society has downloadable PDFs, which can be helpful. Titles include diagnosis, treatment, side effects, and steps to take post-treatment.
Your senior clientele may wish to participate in pancreatic cancer clinical trials. The trials often give individuals access to improved treatment. There’s no guarantee, of course, but your patient may have an improved survival rate.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our skilled in-home care professionals provide customized services to patients in Verdugo City and our other locations. As a career home health care nurse, you’ll find job satisfaction in daily improving the quality of life for others.