Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer is certainly a newsworthy topic as it gets a lot of attention when it affects a common household name such as Alex Trebek, the long-time host of Jeopardy!

(Other famous people who were unfortunate enough to have this diagnosis were Aretha Franklin, Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, Alan Rickman, Michael Landon and others)

Of course, even more devastating would be anyone that you know personally – which most of us have.

What is pancreatic cancer and what does it mean to Alex Trebek?

Although there are a few forms of pancreatic cancer, the most common is adenocarcinoma, and unfortunately it is the most aggressive.  The pancreas is an organ that lies behind the stomach in the upper mid abdomen. The pancreas makes digestive enzymes that help you break down your food. It also makes insulin that regulates your blood sugar as well as other important hormones.

Pancreatic cancer often presents with vague symptoms which is why it is often not diagnosed in an early stage.  Like in Alex’s case, it is not found until it is advanced leaving no good treatment options.

What are symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

  • Jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin (usually a late symptom)
  • Loss of appetite and eventual weight loss
  • Upper abdominal pain and/or upper back pain
  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea with greasy stools

It is very important to understand that these are vague symptoms which are common and can be associated with conditions that are not pancreatic cancer. There is no good screening test for pancreatic cancer. It is often diagnosed with a CT scan of the abdomen. If you have any concerns, you should discuss it with your Digestive Health Specialist provider.

Facts you should know:

  • Pancreatic cancer affects about 55,000 people a year in the Unites States
  • It accounts for 7% of all cancer deaths
  • Treatment typically includes surgical resection if the tumor is detected before it has invaded other surrounding structures. Chemotherapy also is a part of the treatment course.
  • Only approximately 15% of people who are diagnosed are candidates for surgical resection. Of those, 85% have recurrence within 2 years.
  • It is considered such a devastating disease because only 3-6% of all patients diagnosed survive 5 years. So, early detection is key.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

  • Smoking
  • Age over 60
  • Diets high in red and processed meats and excessive alcohol consumption are likely causative factors
  • Obesity
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer (two or more 1st degree relatives or one who was diagnosed at age 50)
  • Race (ethnicity): African Americans or Ashkenazi Jews

So, while this can be a very scary topic, I encourage everyone to focus on making good lifestyle choices to lower their risk for pancreatic cancer, and, again, discuss with your Digestive Disease Specialists provider any concerns or possible symptoms.

Article by Murat Akdamar, MD. Learn more about him here: https://digestivehealth.ws/provider/murat-akdamar-md/

Digestive Health Specialists is here to help you if you, or someone you know, would like more information, or if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and would like further evaluation. To make an appointment, feel free to give us a call at 336-768-6211.

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