Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: What you should know

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: What you should know

In 2016, about 53,070 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although pancreatic cancer does not get as much attention as other types of cancer, it is important to know the warning signs of this form of cancer and when you should see your doctor.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Here are the facts you need to know about pancreatic cancer.

What is pancreatic cancer?
The pancreas is the organ that lies directly behind the lower part of the stomach. It is about 6 inches long and shaped somewhat like a pear. Your pancreas aids the digestion process by secreting enzymes and producing hormones, including insulin, which help regulate the metabolism of sugar in the body.

Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare cancer that accounts for just 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S. Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells in the pancreas develop a mutation in their DNA. Usually, pancreatic cells die when they reach a certain age, but with pancreatic cancer, the cells continue to grow and continue to live after normal cells die. These accumulating cells can form a tumor.

In most cases, the cancer begins in the cells that line the duct of the pancreas. This is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma, or pancreatic exocrine cancer. Very rarely, the cancer can form in the part of the pancreas where the hormones are produced. This is called islet cell cancer, or pancreatic endocrine cancer.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, the average lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer for both men and women is about one in 65, or 1.5 percent. But there are some risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Those risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Having a family history of pancreatic cancer or genetic syndromes including BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM)
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Being African-American
  • Having a history of pancreatitis, which is chronic inflammation of the pancreas

Unfortunately, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis often carries a poor prognosis, even when diagnosed very early. It spreads quickly and is seldom able to be detected early. Often the signs and symptoms don’t show up until the cancer is so advanced that it isn’t possible to remove it surgically.

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include:

  • Jaundice, which appears as a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Jaundice may also result in dark-colored urine and pale-colored stools. 
  • Loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss 
  • Depression
  • Upper abdominal pain that radiates into the back

The appearance of any of these signs — especially two or more of them together — means you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. These might also be signs of other diseases or conditions, but either way, a visit with your doctor is in order.

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms or if you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, contact the Goshen Center for Cancer Care today.


Posted: 11/18/2016 by Goshen Health
Filed under: Cancer Care

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