November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so now’s the perfect time to make sure you’re up to speed on the symptoms, risk factors, treatment and research efforts to take on this challenging disease.
First, The Stats
Pancreatic cancer is projected to be the country’s third leading cause of cancer-related death, overtaking breast cancer. This is largely due to the fact that patients rarely have symptoms until after it’s already spread to other parts of the body, and regular screenings are not called for by the medical community for the general population.
The American Cancer Society shared these statistics and projections for pancreatic cancer in 2016:
- More than 53,000 people will be diagnosed in the U.S.
- More than 41,000 people will die from the disease in the U.S.; 360 in Nevada
- Pancreatic cancer makes up approximately three percent of all cancers
- It is responsible for seven percent of cancer deaths
- The average lifetime risk of the disease is about 1 in 65 (for men and women)
- Among major cancers, it has the lowest survival rate
Though symptoms are often nonexistent during the early stages of pancreatic cancer, symptoms may include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain not explained by physical stress
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dark urine
- Light stool color
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Blood clots
Of course, these symptoms are not unique to pancreatic cancer, but it should be a consideration you explore with your physician.
It’s important to know your risk factors for pancreatic cancer. If you are aware of an increased risk, you have a better chance of being diagnosed in the earlier stages. Risk factors include:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
- Tobacco use
- Chemical exposure
- Being of African-American descent
Only a few of these factors are within your control, but suffice it to say that leading an active, healthy, tobacco-free lifestyle is a valuable part of reducing your risk of any type of cancer.
There are a few approaches to treating pancreatic cancer, though the right approach for you depends on your individual situation, including type of pancreatic cancer, stage of cancer, age, health, personal preferences and other factors.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer includes chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, immunotherapy and targeted therapy, among others. Palliative therapy, or symptom control, to alleviate pain and discomfort is also an important part of any treatment plan.
Research & Advancements
2016 has been a promising year for pancreatic cancer research. In the realm of genetics and early detection, scientists have uncovered information about gene changes in pancreas cells that can cause cancer. Also, inherited changes in genes can help identify people who have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
One newer surgery option now includes laparoscopic surgery available in many major medical centers. While still a difficult procedure to perform for the surgeon, recovery is often faster for the patient.
Studies and clinical trials are also being done on different combinations of chemotherapy drugs and new ways to give radiation for pancreatic patients. Promising results have been found in immune therapy and targeted therapies as well.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, contact Sierra Nevada Cancer Center and Dr. Perez. We will help guide you through your treatment and recovery.