Pancreatic Cancer is an unforgiving disease, as we were reminded once again this past week with the news of Alex Trebek’s death. America’s beloved game show host was diagnosed with this disease in early 2019 and he fought valiantly, albeit unsuccessfully to be one of the few to overcome it. Unfortunately, statistics show that under 10% of the 58,000 people diagnosed this year with pancreatic cancer will make it past 5 years. Alex Trebek’s death is a sobering reminder, in the midst of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, of the importance of awareness and educating ourselves on this disease, including the risks, potential causes, and symptoms - before it’s too late.
What is the Pancreas and What Does it Do?
The pancreas is an important organ found in the middle of your abdomen. It is about 6 inches long and looks similar to a pear lying on its side. The pancreas serves two vital functions that have a profound impact on our health. First, the pancreas produces enzymes that help break down the food eaten as it passes into the small intestine. This is called the exocrine function. Second, the pancreas produces hormones, like insulin, that help regulate blood sugar levels. This is called the endocrine function. A healthy pancreas is vital to the proper functioning of several other key organs, including the brain and liver.
Why is Pancreatic Cancer so Deadly?
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States, even though it is considerably less common than other types of cancer. There are a few different reasons for this occurrence. Most symptoms of pancreatic cancer don’t show up until the more advanced stages of the cancer, largely being discovered well into the 3rd and even 4th stages. This makes early warning signs and early detection a rare occurrence. Many of the symptoms also present themselves as indicators of more common ailments, making it unlikely that treatment for pancreatic cancer is sought out immediately. Unfortunately, by the time the symptoms do occur, the cancer has often metastasized, spreading to other areas around the pancreas and even to distant areas of the body. Lastly, there is currently no reliable screening for pancreatic cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
Many of the indicators of pancreatic cancer involve issues and ailments associated with the digestive system. These include, but are not limited to:
- Loss of appetite
- Bowel obstruction
However, there are other symptoms more serious in nature that can indicate a dangerous problem with the pancreas. These include, but are not limited to:
- Blood clots
- Severe abdominal pain in your back and abdomen
- Dark colored urine
As always, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and have questions about your health, please reach out to us and schedule an appointment.
Am I At Risk for Pancreatic Cancer?
There are many unknowns involved with this type of cancer, including how it is caused. There are, however, certain factors that seem to increase one’s risk for this disease. The American Cancer Society breaks those down into two different categories: risk factors that can be changed and risk factors that can not be changed. Some factors that can be changed include tobacco use, alcohol use, obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, and exposure to workplace toxins and chemicals. Other factors can not be changed or adapted, including one’s age, gender, race, family history, and their genetics. A study of the causes of pancreatic cancer showed that a combination of these factors, especially those that can be changed, have shown to increase the likelihood of pancreatic cancer.
If you have concerns about pancreatic cancer or have experienced a prolonged period of time with any of the symptoms listed above, you are not alone! Schedule a visit with a professional today. Don’t delay, as this is one disease where consistent checkups and even following your gut - could save your life.