Pancreatic cancer affects more than 55,000 men and women in the United State each year. Yet, this particular kind of cancer is extremely difficult to detect early. In most cases, pancreatic cancer is only diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other organs. The American Cancer Society predicted that 44,330 people will die from pancreatic cancer in 2018. This is why November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month—to educate you on the risks, symptoms, and prevention tactics for pancreatic cancer. At Associates in Digestive Health, we want you and your family to be aware of the details surrounding pancreatic cancer.
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas is a small, vital organ deep within your body. Only six inches long, it lies in between your stomach and your spine. The pancreas makes enzymes that help your body digest food, and hormones like insulin and glucagon which help regulate your blood sugar. When cancer is present in the pancreas, it cannot function properly which poses a threat to your entire body. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is exocrine tumors. Making up 95% of pancreatic cancer, these tumors develop in the cells lining the pancreas—the ones responsible for creating digestive enzymes.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
Jaundice—a yellowing of the skin—is one of the top indicators of pancreatic cancer, as well as extremely itchy skin. Unexplained weight loss, indigestion, upper abdominal pain, discomfort in the middle of your back, and pale, smelly stools are all common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. If you experience a sudden loss of appetite, pain while eating, or frequent nausea and vomiting, you may need to be tested for pancreatic cancer. Testing for pancreatic cancer is also necessary for an adult with a new onset of diabetes that is not associated with weight gain. Because many of these symptoms are also signs of other, less serious, GI problems or diseases, talk to your doctor about other risk factors.
Who is at Risk for Pancreatic Cancer?
The cause of pancreatic cancer is still unknown, which makes awareness of the disease and the opportunity to raise funding so necessary. Despite the uncertainty, there are many risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer. At the top of the list is smoking cigarettes. Tobacco smoke is known to cause gene mutation which directly influences the development of cancerous cells. In fact, 20-30% of pancreatic cancer diagnoses are linked to the use of tobacco products.
Age is another risk factor. Chances of pancreatic cancer occur in adults over the age of 45 but most are diagnosed in their early 70s. People with diabetes have a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer, as well as men and women who are obese. Adults with chronic pancreatitis—inflammation in the pancreas—have an increased risk of cancer. In some cases, pancreatic cancer runs in the family due to inherited gene mutations. Nearly 10% of pancreatic cancer is a result of gene changes. With this being said, the majority of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have no family history.
Can I Prevent Pancreatic Cancer?
While there are several factors that cannot be prevented, there are many ways you can take control of your health and significantly lower your risk for pancreatic cancer. The first—perhaps most important—thing you can do is stop smoking. Maintaining a healthy weight will also go a long way to reducing your risk of cancer. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, and avoid a sedentary lifestyle in order to achieve a healthy weight. Doctors recommend eating 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day and choosing whole grains over refined grains. Limit your consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods and beverages.
While more research needs to be done to determine the link between alcohol and pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis is associated with heavy alcohol use. It’s in your best interest to lower your consumption of alcohol. If you are at risk of pancreatic cancer or have a family history, talk to your doctor about testing for early diagnosis. The earlier any cancer is found, the easier and more successful treatment will be. If you are concerned about your risk for pancreatic cancer or are experiencing some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, make an appointment at Associates in Digestive Health today.