How Does Pancreatic Cancer Affect the Body?

Patients usually present late since symptoms only occur once the disease progresses.

Abdominal pain and jaundice are the most common symptoms.

If left untreated, the disease will progress and eventually cause death.

The only cure is surgery. Surgery is possible only if the disease is detected in time. Many times, chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy will be required after surgery. Only chemotherapy to control the tumor will be advised if the disease is detected late.

Surgery is done to remove the tumor altogether, along with the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. This a supra-major surgery. If tumors are on the right side, a Whipple pancreatoduodenectomy is the most commonly performed operation. This surgery involves the removal of around 20% of the pancreas along with the duodenum, gallbladder, bile duct, a dn lymph nodes. Three anastomoses or joints are then made to resume normal bodily functions. General anesthesia is administered. In selected patients, this surgery can be done laparoscopically.  For left-sided tumors, a distal pancreatectomy may be the best option. Rarely, the entire pancreas may have to be removed. Complications after surgery are rare and involve leakage of pancreatic juice, difficulty in digestion, or bleeding, to name a few. 

Chemotherapy involves injections or tablets that attack tumor cells and curtail their growth. There may be various toxicities depending on the type and dose of chemotherapy.

There are no special precautions to be taken before surgery. The patient is advised to stop smoking if applicable. Admission is made one day before surgery, and a pre-anesthetic check-up is performed to ensure minimal risk. 

Usually, the postoperative course is smooth, and the patient is discharged in 5-9 days, depending on the recovery speed. During this time, the patient is slowly weaned off painkillers, and antibiotics are stopped. The oral diet is commenced gradually, and any drains, if placed, are removed.

After discharge, the patient is usually kept on a soft diet for a week and called to the OPD for removal of the stitches after 14 days from the date of surgery. The histopathology (biopsy) report is usually available now, and further decisions can be made. The wound generally does not require any dressing after discharge unless there is wound discharge. An abdominal binder is advised to be worn for three months after surgery. Walking and light activities are permitted after discharge.

If there is any unexplained or adverse event after discharge, the patient should not panic but contact the treating doctor for advice, which will be given promptly.