November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and November 16th marks World Pancreatic Cancer Day. It is an important time of the year to both increase public awareness and raise funds for those affected by this fatal condition. Here at HealthTap, we are dedicated to providing information that improves your understanding of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer: where it starts
The pancreas is a thin, pear-shaped organ located behind the stomach. It secretes enzymes that aid digestion, and produces hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugar and control the body’s blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer starts when cells in the pancreas start to grow uncontrollably and form a tumor. A HealthTap specialist surgeon, Dr. Mark Hoepfner, defines pancreatic cancer as “fast growing abnormal cells [of the pancreas] that are difficult to diagnose at an early stage, and only sometimes can be removed with surgery. Endocrine cancers tend to be slower growing and may produce hormones.”
According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, there will be 53,720 newly diagnosed cases of pancreatic cancer in the U.S in 2017. While two different types of pancreatic cancer exist, 95% of them are known as adenocarcinomas. Compared to other cancers, pancreatic cancer is relatively rare, but late presenting symptoms often lead to late stage diagnoses and poor outcomes.
Unfortunately, the causes of pancreatic cancer are not well understood. However, according to the American Cancer Society, several risk factors make a person more likely to develop this condition These include:
- Age: according to the CDC, 70% of patients are 65 years or older
- Sex: males are at a higher risk than females
- A family history of pancreatic cancer
- Tobacco usage and cigarette smoking
- Work exposure to certain pesticides, dyes, and chemicals
While certain risk factors cannot be avoided, many can. Smoking and obesity are two risk factors that can easily be avoided. Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in the U.S., and the risk of pancreatic cancer is twice as high amongst smokers compared to those who have never smoked. Cutting down on smoking, following an anti-inflammatory diet, and maintaining a healthy body weight can help reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. If you are a smoker, you can also follow many of these doctor tips on how you can quit smoking for good.
There are very few noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, you should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Light-colored stools
- Dark urine
- Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Given the grim prognosis of pancreatic cancer, researchers are working hard to develop better ways to diagnose and treat this condition. The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, when present, can often mimic the signs and symptoms of many other illnesses; so when in doubt, connect with your doctor. At HealthTap, our doctors are available for you 24/7.
Author: Simitha Singh Rambiritch