As a fairly newly recognized condition that is rare, autoimmune pancreatitis (AIP) at times can be misdiagnosed for pancreatic cancer as both illnesses have similar signs and symptoms. Having said that, they both have very distinct treatment options; therefore, it is vital to properly diagnose one from the other.
Mayo Clinic revealed that this is when chronic inflammation of the pancreas that is thought to be caused by the immune system attacking this gland organ, patients that suffer from AIP might have mass in their pancreas, or the organ tends to enlarge. There are two categories of AIP, which include:
- Type 1 AIP: Also known as IgG4-related pancreatitis. This falls under the IgG4-related illnesses (IgG4-RD) that target the pancreas and a multiple of other organs including the liver, kidneys, bile ducts, lymph nodes, and salivary glands.
- Type 2 AIP: Also referred to as idiopathic duct-centric pancreatitis. This category of AIP only deals with the pancreas. Although it is important to note, approximately one-third of patients who have type 2 AIP also are linked to inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).
The root of the reason that AIP often gets misdiagnosed with pancreatic cancer is the fact that the condition itself can be difficult to pinpoint. Patients may not notice any signs or symptoms in the beginning, and when they do, these signs and symptoms look a lot like the tell-tale signs of pancreatic cancer, which include:
- Jaundice: yellow eyes and skin
- Dark urine
- Pain in the middle of the back or upper abdomen
- Stools that float in the toilet, or pale stools
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme tiredness or weakness
- Feeling “full” or loss of appetite
- Weight loss, without trying or for no reason
Meanwhile, the most common symptom for AIP is jaundice, which tends to be painless and due to the bile ducts being blocked. AIP can also cause a patient to experience unknown weight loss, and another reason this condition gets mistaken for pancreatic cancer is the masses on the pancreas that appear for some patients.
While doctors don’t know what the root cause of AIP is, the good news for patients is that the condition can be treated with steroids, allowing them to live a normal and pain-free life for the most part. As with any illness, early detection is key, so that treatments can help with symptoms, as complications can arise if AIP progresses without getting noticed. They include:
- Diabetes: As the pancreas produces insulin, damage can result in the diabetes condition for some patients.
- Pancreatic Insufficiency: AIP could affect the process in which the pancreas produces enzymes. Symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency include mineral and vitamin deficiency, metabolic bone illness, weight loss and diarrhea.
- Pancreatic Stones or Calcifications
At this time, there is no concrete link between AIP and pancreatic cancer.