Pancreatic Cancer & Fluid Buildup in the Lungs

Young doctors consult over an X-ray
Doctor looking at lung xray. (Image: lovro77/iStock/Getty Images)

More than 37,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, mostly those over the age of 55, reports Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Typically, there are no early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat successfully. Fluid buildup in the lungs can occur as a result of many disease processes, including metastatic cancer from the pancreas.

Pancreatic Cancer

There are several types of pancreatic cancer -- isolated sarcomas and lymphomas, pancreaticoblastoma, islet cell carcinoma, pseudopapillary, and adenocarcinoma. The most common type is adenocarcinoma, which accounts for 95 percent of all cases, reports the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Adenocarcinomas affect the cells active in secreting digestive enzymes. Most symptoms appear because of the involvement of other organs in the digestive system. Possible symptoms include jaundice, indigestion, poor appetite, color changes of urine and stool, weight loss, and a sudden change in blood sugar levels.

Fluid in the Lungs

Fluid in the lungs, also known as pulmonary edema, or PE, is not to be confused with pleural effusion, which is fluid in the tissue surrounding the lung. Symptoms of PE may include coughing, shortness of breath, diminished breath sounds and wheezing.

Causes of PE include heart conditions, pneumonia, kidney disease and cancer. Lung cancer is cancer that originates in the lung; metastatic lung cancer is cancer that originates at some other location in the body, such as the pancreas, and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs.

Identifying the cause of fluid buildup in the lungs includes diagnostic testing such as a chest X-ray or CT scan, lung needle biopsy to obtain fluid for cytologic examination and a surgical lung biopsy, if needed.

Treatment

Treatment options for pancreatic cancer are determined by the stage of the cancer. In the early stages where the cancer is contained within the pancreas, treatment options include surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.

In advanced stages where the cancer has metastasized, such as to the lungs, chemotherapy is usually the treatment of choice, reports the American Society of Clinical Oncology's website, Cancer.net. Radiation or surgery may be done to shrink or reduce the size of the tumor for comfort measures. Removal of fluid accumulation in the lungs may be required for breathing comfort.

Prognosis

The outlook for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer has historically been very poor. The main reason for the dismal prognosis is that symptoms indicating pancreatic cancer usually don't appear until the disease is advanced or metastasized to other organs, such as the lungs or liver. Since treatment options at that point are mainly directed at comfort measures, most patients die within the first year of diagnosis, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Clinical trials are ongoing at MD Anderson Cancer Center and other locations in search of new treatment strategies that will extend the survival rate for pancreatic cancer.

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