Those succulent pakoras can be cancerous!

With company to complement these tasty delicacies, life couldn’t be more fulfilling. While this may appear as a harmless way chilling out on a weekend, lurking behind could be cancer that can catch you off guard.

Pancreatic cancer, which comprises only five per cent of cancers, is at risk of occurring when diet leans heavily towards barbequed meat, fatty food and excessive alcohol.

While chronic pancreatitis, a disease of the pancreas induced by excessive alcohol, increases the chances by 20 times, heavy smoking increases the risk by two to three times. Being overweight too can make one susceptible to it.

The commonest pancreatic cancer arises from the secretory ducts of the pancreas. Unfortunately the prognosis in this form of cancer is poor. However less common cancers arising from hormone producing cells of the pancreas or pancreatic cysts have a much better outcome with treatment. Many a time the cysts are ignored, taking them to be benign, preventing cure.

The early symptoms are often non-specific with loss of appetite, weight loss and dyspepsia. Tumours arising from the head of the pancreas can cause jaundice associated with itching. However, tumours occurring towards the tail of the pancreas can be silent killers, as often no symptoms occur until they are large and reach the final stage. At this point the enlarged tumour may be felt through the abdomen as a lump or can result in back pain.   

Without treatment the average life span of these patients is only about 6-9 months. While surgery is the main form of treatment, only 5 to 10% of patients are amenable to surgery. Surgery extends the life span up to 2-3 years and is able to achieve cure in 15-20% of patients who are operated upon. Unfortunately, no transplant is possible for pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy help to extend the life span when surgery is not possible. They may be added to surgery to enhance its benefit.

Contrary to popular belief about restrictions on diet after surgery, the patient can revert to normal healthy diet, as the pancreas continues to secrete enzymes.  Pancreatic cancer is more common in men though there is no particular reason for this. While it is not specifically genetic, certain rare diseases like Heredity Pancreatitis, causing inflammation of the pancreas, are caused by genetic abnormalities. In this case, the inflammation recurs starting from a young age, with a steep chance of developing into cancer in adulthood.

The most common age group prone to pancreatic cancer is 40 to 60, while the incidence amongst children is extremely rare, almost non-existent.  The silver lining here is that expert care is available in the country to treat pancreatic cancer. However, since prevention is better than cure, a change towards a healthy life style, with less alcohol, abstinence from smoking and eating sensibly, can go a long way in checking its occurrence.

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