T

he pancreas is one of those body parts that people don’t know much about. Contrary to the heart or the lungs, which we feel every day working in our bodies, the pancreas is a silent gland that rarely gets mentioned.

The pancreas is a located in the abdomen, nestled between the stomach, the spleen, the small intestine, and the gallbladder, and it plays a crucial role in regulating your blood sugar levels. The other main function of the pancreas is to aid with digestion.

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

As with most other types of cancer, pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in the pancreas begin to grow and divide at an abnormal and uncontrolled rate, forming one or several growths called tumors. However, normal cells should only grow and divide when the body needs to replace them because others have died out.

The reasons why pancreatic cancer occurs are not fully understood; it is estimated that 5 to 10% of pancreatic cancer cases can be attributed to genetic or hereditary factors, however, the rest of the cases seem to occur at random.

There are a few factors that may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, including obesity, diabetes, smoking, eating processed meats, and being over the age of 60. However, a direct relationship between pancreatic cancer and these factors has yet to be established.

Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed through a combination of clinical history, imaging tests to look for any tumors or masses in or around the pancreas, lab tests, and a biopsy of any masses that were found.

Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer doesn’t produce many symptoms until it has reached a very advanced stage so it is very hard to diagnose it early. This is one of the reasons why this is one of the most aggressive types of cancer. It is estimated that 23% of individuals survive one year after the diagnosis, and only 8% are living five years post-diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials

Contrary to popular belief, clinical trials are not always carried out to evaluate new drugs or medications. Some cancer clinical trials have been designed to improve the way doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer and to look for ways to diagnose the disease early in order to improve the patient’s prognosis.

When you decide to enroll in a clinical trial, the first thing the research staff will ask you to do is to sign an informed consent form. An informed consent form is a document that explains all the benefits and risks associated with participating in a research study, and your signature will let the research team and regulatory agencies know that you have been informed and have voluntarily agreed to participate.

Signing an informed consent form doesn’t mean that you are not free to withdraw from the study at any point in time. Clinical research is always voluntary, and if you decide to stop participating in a clinical trial you are free to do so at any time, without facing any medical or legal consequences.

All clinical trials are different, so while some clinical trials only evaluate the participants a few times per week or per month, other studies (especially cancer clinical trials) are inpatient clinical trials, which mean that the participant will be admitted to the hospital for the duration of the study.

Are There Any Risks of Participating in a Clinical Trial?

When a clinical trial is ready to recruit volunteers, it means that the research team has spent a long time (usually years) investigating the potential medication in a lab. During that time, the treatment was tested in animals for safety and toxicity, and it met all the requirements for human subject testing mandated by internal and third-party regulatory entities.

Going through all these regulations and phases ensure that the clinical trial posses the minimal amount of risk possible for all participants. However, as it is the case of any medication (and especially experimental ones) there is always a risk for unexpected side effects, allergies, etc. so research staff is always on call in case anything happens to a participant.

Where Can I Find a Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trial?

Hospitals and universities are always conducting research studies and clinical trials, so if you are interested in learning more about becoming a research volunteer you can call your local hospital or university. Additionally, if you or a loved one is a pancreatic cancer patient, your oncologist might be the right person to ask about clinical trial.