Adults and children who have a certain type of pancreatic cancer may receive treatment with a medicine called Zanosar. This prescription drug is approved for people whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body or in people who are experiencing symptoms. Zanosar is also used off-label to treat conditions like Hodgkin's disease or colorectal cancer.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when cancer cells first form in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland in the body that performs two important functions -- it produces juices to help with digestion (the breaking down of food) and hormones (insulin and glucagon) to help control blood sugar levels. The body uses sugar (glucose) for energy.
There are two main parts of the pancreas: the endocrine and exocrine parts. The endocrine pancreas cells produce hormones, while the exocrine pancreas cells produce digestive juices. Cancer can occur in either of these types of cells.
The vast majority of pancreatic cancer cases begin in the exocrine cells. Cancer of the endocrine cells, known as pancreatic islet cell cancer, is rare, accounting for only about 5 percent of all pancreatic cancers.
Pancreatic islet cell cancer can be classified as functional or nonfunctional. In functional islet cell cancer, the cancerous islet cells release an excess amount of hormones into the bloodstream. In nonfunctional islet cell cancer, the tumors do not make extra hormones.
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer will depend, in part, on whether a person has functional or nonfunctional tumors. This is because the extra hormones produced by functional tumors can cause symptoms. For example, too much insulin can cause the body to store sugar instead of burning it for energy. This will cause hypoglycemia, which is a condition in which there is too little sugar in the blood. Too much glucagon can cause hyperglycemia, which is a condition in which there is too much sugar in the blood.
Symptoms from nonfunctional tumors are mainly due to the tumor growing and spreading. Some of these symptoms may include:
Zanosar is approved to treat metastatic islet cell cancer of the pancreas. Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from its primary site (the pancreas in the case of islet cell cancer) to other areas of the body. This medicine may be used to treat both functional and nonfunctional pancreatic cancers. Because it is associated with potentially serious side effects, Zanosar is normally reserved for use in people who are experiencing symptoms and whose cancer is progressing.
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