Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive and treatment-resistant cancer that appears to be driven by pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas. Although most people with pancreatitis never go on to develop pancreatic cancer, drinking alcohol in excess, obesity, and particularly smoking, has long been associated with a greater risk of having pancreatic disease.
The Role of The Pancreas
The pancreas is a digestive organ with two main functions. It produces digestive enzymes to break food down in our intestines, and it contains clusters of cells, Islets of Langerhans, that help the body regulate its blood sugar levels.
Inflammation as a Contributor to Pancreatic Cancer
Inflammation is a complex immune response. Pancreatic inflammation, mediated by cytokines, immune messengers, up-regulate (increase) inflammation which may lead to pancreatic cancer. Once inflammation is triggered, more immune cells are attracted to the inflamed pancreas and additional cytokines are released that damage pancreatic tissue and attract other damage-causing immune cells.
One of the roles of the immune system is to recognize and destroy cancer cells. There is a significant amount of “cross-talk” between cancerous cells and immune cells. On one hand immune cells track down cancer cells in an attempt to destroy them. They can “turn-on” (up-regulate) or “turn-off” (down-regulate) cancerous cells. Signals from cancerous cells can result in marked imbalances of immune cells, or make them function in odd ways.
Role of Cytokines in Pancreatic Cancer.
For example, pancreatic tumor cells are able to dampen some of the immune responses of the immune system leaving pancreatic cancer cells to multiply more easily. Cytokines from immune cells can change the environment around tumor cells and act directly on them, triggering their growth and migration to other parts of the pancreas and body. Some cytokines transform cancer cells into becoming resistant to chemotherapy.
Others may act either to trigger inflammation or stop inflammation depending on circumstances. In one study of pancreatic cancer, the most invasive parts of a tumor were found in the midst of heavily inflammatory centers.
Bacteria May Drive Inflammation and Cancer
Interestingly, the studies of our microbiome, the bacteria that inhabit our digestive tracts and other parts of the body, suggest that the bacteria that inhabit us may trigger inflammation, thereby promoting the growth of cancers.
In summary, limiting inappropriate inflammation and achieving a state of immune balance, homeostasis, may be a significant contributor in reducing the risk of pancreatic disease.
Dr. Greenblatt looks forward to assisting you in reaching your health goals: http://drhellengreenblatt.info/contact-dr-hellen or 1.302-265.3870 [USA, ET].