To begin to understand the relationship between disease progression and pain in pancreatic cancer, transgenic mice that develop pancreatic cancer due to the expression of the simian virus 40 large T antigen under control of the rat elastase-1 promoter were examined. In these mice precancerous cellular changes were evident at 6 weeks and these included an increase in: microvascular density, macrophages that express nerve growth factor and the density of sensory and sympathetic fibers that innervate the pancreas, with all of these changes increasing with tumor growth. In somatic tissue such as skin, the above changes would be accompanied by significant pain; however, in mice with pancreatic cancer, changes in pain-related behaviors, such as morphine-reversible severe hunching and vocalization only became evident at 16 weeks of age, by which time the pancreatic cancer was highly advanced. These data suggest that in mice as well as humans, there is a stereotypic set of pathological changes that occur as pancreatic cancer develops, and while weight loss generally tracks disease progression, there is a significant lag between disease progression and behaviors indicative of pancreatic cancer pain. Defining the mechanisms that mask this pain in early and mid-stage disease and drive the pain in late-stage disease may aid in earlier diagnosis, survival, and increased quality of life of patients with pancreatic cancer.
- Visceral tumor