The pancreas plays a vital role in digestion and metabolic processes. Pancreatic diseases, if not treated, can lead to serious and long-term illnesses.
Some conditions can be treated through medication while others may require pancreatic surgery.
The three most common diseases affecting the pancreas are as follows:
Pancreatitis occurs when digestive enzymes that the endocrine tissues produce become prematurely activated while still in the pancreas. This irritates the pancreatic cells, causing the pancreas to become inflamed. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, but both have serious consequences if not attended to promptly. Complications include infections, diabetes and kidney failure.
Pancreatitis is typically caused by gallstones that block the common bile duct or in some cases, excessive alcohol intake. It is characterized by severe pain in the abdomen that can extend to the back, nausea and vomiting, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea and fever.
Treatment-wise, pancreatitis often requires hospitalization, antibiotics, pain medication and intravenous (IV) fluids. In cases where pancreatitis is caused by an obstructed bile duct, surgery is necessary. Gallstones can be removed and prevented by gallbladder removal. Pancreatic surgery in Singapore is also done to drain the pancreas from any dead tissues that can cause further infection.
Diabetes mellitus is a disorder characterized by a blood sugar level that is too high. It develops when as a result of the pancreas not producing sufficient insulin (type 1 diabetes), or the body being unable to use insulin properly (type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone that transports sugar (glucose) from the blood into the cell, providing them energy to function. With diabetes, there is a lack of insulin, resulting in glucose staying in the blood. This leads to high sugar levels (hyperglycemia).
Diabetes is a serious condition that can have long-lasting or even life-threatening consequences if not treated. These include vision problems, gum disease, kidney failure, heart attack or stroke, nerve damage and loss of limb. Symptoms of diabetes to watch out for are frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, unexplained weight loss, slow-healing wounds, blurred vision and extreme fatigue.
The first-line treatment for diabetes is insulin, in which insulin is regularly injected into the bloodstream. Other medicines that help stimulate the pancreas to secrete more insulin, and those that prevent the liver from releasing glucose, may be prescribed. In cases where there is pancreas failure, a pancreatic surgeon may recommend a transplant.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop and multiply in the pancreas, forming tumours. Among the different types of cancer, pancreatic cancer one of the rarest but also one of the most dangerous with a 5-year survival rate of only 10%, making prompt detection and treatment even more crucial.
Surgery is the main treatment for pancreatic cancer. In most cases, the Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) is performed. The Whipple surgery in Singapore involves the removal of the pancreas head, duodenum, gallbladder, part of the common bile duct and surrounding lymph nodes. Sometimes the pylorus (part of the stomach that connects to the duodenum) is also removed. The remaining organs will then be attached together to help facilitate digestion.
Aside from a Whipple operation in Singapore, other surgical treatments are available to treat pancreatic cancer, depending on the size and location of the tumour. These include:
These surgical treatments may be done alongside chemotherapy or radiation therapy. A person can live without a pancreas, though he or she will need to regularly take insulin and other supplements to make up for the function of the lost organ.
Prior to establishing his own practice, Dr Wong was previously a consultant with the Department of Hepatopancreatobiliary & Transplant Surgery at SGH, an adjunct assistant professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and a visiting consultant at the National Cancer Centre Singapore.Read more