Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of human cancer with a high mortality rate, so patients need to be proactive. In this page, I will first review the conventional approach to pancreatic cancer (Section A) and follow up with a brief examination of a few causes and mechanisms that can make this type of cancer lethal (Section B).
Pancreatic cancer represents the fourth leading cause of cancer death in United States. More than 43,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year and about the same number die each year from the disease. Only about 3% of people with pancreatic cancer live more than five years after diagnosis. There are several reasons why mainstream oncology has not been succcessful with this type of cancer. First pancreatic cancer is aggressive, meaning its cancer cells are poorly differentiated. As a result, it’s quicker to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Another reason why this malignancy is difficult is because at first it’s asymptomatic, thus before symptoms surface, it is usually in an advanced stage. Furthermore, pancreatic cancer responds very poorly to current chemotherapy and radiation treatments, worse than other cancers. And lastly, not enough holistic science is applied.
Pancreatic Cancer is difficult to Diagnose in its early stages
Pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose because the early symptoms are usually vague. Early symptoms are usually nothing more than a general feeling of discomfort in the abdomen or an unexplained weight loss. Jaundice, which occurs when the growing tumor blocks the bile duct, is often the symptom that first causes patients to go to their doctor.
The pancreas is a small organ located in the back of the abdomen and surrounded by the stomach, large intestine and liver. This makes it hard to see the pancreas with imaging technologies and difficult to access to remove cells for a biopsy. Even at a small size, cancer originating in the pancreas spreads quickly to other organs
Physical examination. The doctor will examine the skin, tongue, and eyes to see if they are yellow, which is a sign of jaundice. Jaundice can be from a tumor in the head of the pancreas blocking the normal flow of a substance produced in the liver called bile. However, many patients with pancreatic cancer do not have jaundice when the cancer is diagnosed. Your doctor will also feel your abdomen for changes caused by the cancer, although the pancreas itself, located in the back of the upper abdomen, can rarely be felt. An abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen, called ascites, may be another sign of cancer.
Blood tests. The doctor may take samples of blood to check for abnormal levels of bilirubin and other substances. Bilirubin is a chemical that may reach high levels in patients with pancreatic cancer due to blockage of the common bile duct by a tumor. There are many other non-cancerous causes of an elevated bilirubin level, such as hepatitis, gallstones, or mononucleosis.
Carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) is a tumor marker. A tumor marker is a substance produced by a tumor that may be found at higher levels if cancer is present and can be measured in the blood. CA19-9 levels are often increased in people with pancreatic cancer, although some patients have normal CA19-9 levels. CA19-9 levels often become higher as the cancer grows or spreads. CA 19-9 should not be used as the only test to diagnose pancreatic cancer because high levels of CA 19-9 also can be a sign of other conditions. For example, other types of cancer, such as colorectal, liver, and esophageal cancers can increase CA 19-9. And noncancerous conditions, such as pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and a non-cancerous blockage of the common bile duct may also increase CA 1
Maintream Oncology’s Limitations
For now, the only FDA-approved mainstream therapies for PC are gemcitabine and erlotinib, both of which produce objective responses in less than 10% of patients, while causing severe side-effects in the majority. (1) (Source)
There is thus an urgent need for new options (See clinical trials) and holistic solutions (see blog).
Causation and Mechanisms
Cancer Stem Cells: one of the key Mechanisms that is still under-estimated
In 2007, cancer scientists identified a small group of cells, called cancer stem cells, in tumors from patients with pancreatic cancer. Researchers believe these stem cells are the key to finding an effective treatment and possibly someday a cure for pancreatic cancer.
Researchers have shown that just a few cancer stem cells are responsible for the growth and spread of pancreatic cancer. Unless these stem cells are removed or dedifferentiated back into normal cells, the cancer usually returns. Mainstream oncologists are working on devloping new drugs to target directly cancer stem cells. To develop these drugs, scientists are looking for specific signaling pathways and cell surface markers found in cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are prognitor cells, meaning that they are the source of daughter cells and organize the malignancy. (2) (See blog on cancer stem cells).
Causes & Risks
Like many types of cancer, pancreatic cancer is caused by a combination of inherited genetic factors and environmental or lifestyle factors, from diet, smoking, to household toxins, stress and the like, all of which lead to a breakdown of homeostasis and the bioterrain. We know that at least 25% of all cases of pancreatic cancer are associated with smoking, including second hand.
There also are genetic links to pancreatic cancer. A family history of the disease is present in about 10% of all cases. There is a disproportionate amount of Jews who get diagnosed with this malignancy. Pancreatic cancer is associated with genetic mutations known to cause other types of cancer like melanoma, breast or colon cancer. Scientists still don’t know most of the gene alterations that increase a person’s susceptibility to pancreatic cancer.
In recent research, scientists have identified a gene called ATDC that appears to play a major role in this disease. They found that this gene was abnormally active in pancreatic tumor cells – causing tumors to grow faster and more aggressively in research mice, as well as making the cells resistant to chemotherapy.
“These results delineate a novel molecular pathway for EMT in pancreatic tumorigenesis, showing that ATDC is a proximal regulator of EMT.” (Source)
Other researchers have found that bacteria would be the decisive mechanism by which treatment resistance occurs. (See blog) And still other scientists have found that it’s the chemo and RT that cause metastases via cancer stem cell activation. (See blog article).
A few years ago, dietary fat of animal origin was associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk.
“In this large prospective cohort with a wide range of intakes, dietary fat of animal origin was associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk.” (3) (Source)
In a 2013 study, poultry was identified as a major culprit. 72% increased risk of pancreatic cancer for every 50g of daily poultry consumption. (Source) That’s like a quarter of a chicken breast. The reason white meat came out worse than red may be because of the cooked meat carcinogens in chicken, the heterocyclic amines that build up in grilled and baked chicken. These mutagenic chemicals have been associated with doubling pancreatic cancer risk. Furthermore, there’s been more evidence that mainstream chicken contains arsenic. And arsenic is a big cancer driver.
Other recent studies include one out of San Francisco, implicating the standard American diet and one out of Italy: high consumption of meat and other animal products, as well as of refined carbs was associated with pancreatic cancer risk, whereas a diet rich in fruit and vegetables appeared to lower risk. *(4) (Source)
While eating meat and processed junk foods and sugar has been shown to signficantly increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, eating a plant-based diet has been shown to be protective. Those who eat plant-based meats like veggie burgers or veggie dogs three times or more a week had less than half the risk of fatal pancreatic cancer. Legumes and dried fruit were found to be similarly protective.
Tentative conclusion: A diet characterized by a high consumption of meat and other animal products, as well as of (refined) cereals and sugars, is positively associated with pancreatic cancer risk, whereas a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is inversely associated. (5) (Source)
Since pancreatic cancer is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation, worse, because it has been shown that both cytotoxic chemotherapy and ionic radiation spur cancer stem cells to be stronger and more invasive, new treatments are needed that can neutralize or redifferentiate the small number of cancer stem cells within the tumor, inter alia.
While there are a few alternative and holistic pathways that are interesting to explore, a patient can first and foremost remove some of the dietary causes that have been identified above. A while back, Harvard University also showed that there is a correlation between coffee and pancreatic cancer. Thus to be on the safe side, minimizing coffee, especially dark non organic coffee would be a reasonable lifestyle change. It’s not the coffee per se the problem, it’s the dark combustion, two residues of which are benzenes and tar, what exists in cigarettes.
While pancreatic cancer is a tough one to reverse, hope and optimism should be associated with a reasonable plan of holistic action, if only because every now and then there are new discoveries on biochemical pathways, new findings with clinical trials, more pancreatic cancer patients showing that it’s possible to reverse this disease holistically. The ACR Institute is organizing itself so that it will have the means to dig deep in order to find durable reversal solutions. Meanwhile, patients can order cancer reports on the recent findings regarding conventional, integrative and holistic options so that their decisions can be based more on Science and innovative findings than dogmas, conventional routine and outdated standards of care.
Ch. J. (ACRI director)
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