Did you know that the pancreas is only about the length of your hand yet performs two vital functions? It not only produces hormones that regulate blood glucose, essential in providing the body’s cells with the energy they need to function, but it also makes digestive enzymes which are secreted into the small intestine where they break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates making it possible for these nutrients to be absorbed into the body.
The importance of the pancreas is sometimes underestimated until something goes wrong. Many disorders may affect the pancreas, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, acute and chronic pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer.
November is recognized worldwide as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Despite being the eighth most common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide,1 pancreatic cancer is not well known and understood. Few risk factors are defined and the disease is often diagnosed at a late stage. As a result, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers and is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially over nearly 40 years.2
Abbott is recognizing Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness about this disease and the conditions associated with it, such as pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEl).
PEI occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough, or any, digestive enzymes, which means that the body is less able to digest and absorb nutrients from food. Pancreatic cancer patients may suffer from reduced availability of pancreatic enzymes as a result of destroyed enzyme-producing glands; this can lead to inadequate absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) and eventually to malnutrition.3 It is estimated that between 68 to 92% of pancreatic cancer patients may have malabsorption caused by PEI.4,5 PEI also has a negative impact on quality of life6 and has been associated with poor survival in advanced pancreatic cancer7.
Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) is the only treatment for PEI. These therapies facilitate the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates as a substitute for the usual pancreatic digestive enzymes.3
1 http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/world/the-global-picture/cancer-overall-world#source2. Accessed October 28, 2013.
2 Pancreatic Cancer Facts http://www.pancreatic.org/site/c.htJYJ8MPIwE/b.5050503/. Accessed October 28, 2013.
3 Toouli J et al. Management of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency: Australasian Pancreatic Club recommendations, MJA 2010; 193(8): 461-467 (2010).
4 Ihse I, Arnesjo B, Kugelberg C, Lilja P. Intestinal activities of trypsin, lipase, and phospholipase after a test meal. An evaluation of 474 examinations. Scand J Gastroenterol 1977;12(6):663-8.
5 Kato H, Nakao A, Kishimoto W et al. 13C-labeled trioctanoin breath test for exocrine pancreatic function test in patients after pancreatoduodenectomy. Am J Gastroenterol 1993 January;88(1):64-9.
6 Gooden HM and White KJ. Pancreatic cancer and supportive care pancreatic exocrine insufficiency negatively impacts on quality of life. Support Care Cancer 2013 Jul;21(7):1835-41.
7 Partelli S et al. Faecal elastase-1 is an independent predictor of survival in advanced pancreatic cancer. Dig Liver Dis 2012 Nov; 44(11):945-51.