Pancreatic Cancer Medical Negligence Solicitors – Compensation Claims

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Pancreatic cancer is uncommon especially in those below 50 years of age. The most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen, weight loss and jaundice which may be associated with indigestion, sickness, bloating after meals and tiredness. Because of the vaguer nature of these symptoms, cancer of the pancreas may go undiagnosed especially as the symptoms may mimic other less serious medical conditions. Failure by a doctor to refer a patent to a cancer specialist for further testing due to misdiagnosis is medical negligence. Treatment of pancreatic cancer is by surgery if the tumour is small and by chemotherapy.

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Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas can be difficult and starts with a local doctor who should refer the patient to a hospital for specialist tests and subsequent treatment. The most important symptom is jaundice which may be evident from skin colour and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Thereafter urine and blood tests should be sufficient to ensure referral where examination will involve further blood tests and x-rays and possibly, CT computerised tomography scans, ultrasound, MRI magnetic resonance imaging scans, ERCP endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography, EUS endoscopic ultrasound, biopsy and laparoscopy. All of these tests require human interpretation and there is therefore opportunity for misdiagnosis and medical negligence.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a cancer of the pancreas, which is an endocrine and exocrine gland in the upper stomach area. It is a long, tubular gland with a head near the duodenum and a tail associated with the area of the stomach. Each year about 4,000 people in Australia will have a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This means about one patient in 76 will have this terrible diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer will affect men and women equally and most patients will be greater than 45 years of age.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the top ten cancers. Because it is so deadly, unfortunately, it is the fourth deadliest cancer. About 4,000 individuals in Australia will die from the disease every year. This means that more than half of the people who have pancreatic cancer will not survive their diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer covers more than one type because there are different parts to the pancreas. As mentioned, there are exocrine and endocrine parts to the pancreas. The exocrine part makes the digestive juices and the endocrine part makes insulin and other hormones.

The types of the thyroid cancer are many although 95 percent of all cases of pancreatic cancer are due to what’s called “pancreatic adenocarcinoma”. This is an exocrine cancer. There are less common types of exocrine tumors, particularly adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, giant cell carcinoma, acinar cell carcinoma and small cell carcinoma of the pancreas. Because 95 percent of all of the pancreas is considered related to the exocrine system, of course this would also represent the vast majority of pancreatic cancer.

Cancer can show up in the endocrine part of the pancreas but they are seen less frequently than exocrine parts of the pancreas. The cancerous cells of the endocrine system are known as “pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell tumors”. The cancer types are specifically named for the hormone produced by the pancreatic cell from which the cell came. These include insulinomas, glucagonomas, somatostatinomas, gastrinomas, VIPomas (from vasoactive intestinal peptide cells) and non-secreting pancreatic islet cell cancers.

Pancreatic cancer begins when a glitch in the DNA of a pancreatic cell causes that cell to divide uncontrollably and spread within the pancreas. Exactly what causes this process to happen is completely unknown. The pancreatic cell cancer spreads relatively quickly and to other body areas when compared to other types of cancers. This is what contributes to the high mortality of the cancer.

Smoking has come to be a major risk factor in getting pancreatic cancer. Those who smoke have about twice the risk of getting pancreatic cancer when you compare them to non-smokers. Diabetes, even though it is related to the pancreas, has nothing to do with getting pancreatic cancer. Advancing age, race and having a history of pancreatic cancer are all risk factors for getting the disease.

The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult because there are no good blood screening tests and there are no lumps to feel. The doctor will do a complete history and physical examination. If there is a suspicion of pancreatic cancer due to unexplained weight loss or abdominal discomfort, the doctor might go ahead and do the following tests to check for pancreatic cancer:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan of the abdomen and chest
  • Endoscopic ultrasonography
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or ERCP

Tissue is biopsied to make a complete diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The treatment phase of the disease then commences. The following are choices for treatment:

  • Surgery. It is done to lessen symptoms or, in some cases, to attempt to cure the disease.
  • Chemotherapy. This is often done along with radiation to reduce symptoms and to make the growth of the cancer cells slower.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Palliative care. This involves doing what’s necessary by surgical or medical means to control symptoms in patients who are not expected to survive.

Pancreatic cancer is a dire condition to have. Metastases are common, even before the initial diagnosis is made. Most treatments of pancreatic cancer are palliative and some are designed to make a person live a few months or more longer. There are clinical trials ongoing to help prolong the lives of patients with this form of cancer.

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