How much do you know about pancreatic cancer? Most people have very little information on one of the deadliest cancers. In the United States, over 50,000 men and women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and over 40,000 die from the disease each year. Pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers that affect men and women equally, yet it is one of the cancers that is most difficult to detect. Awareness pushes ahead of research, and there is a need for increased research of this serious disease.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and we at Carolina Digestive Health Associates want you to be informed.

The Details of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a malignancy that forms in the pancreas, which is a small organ that lies between the stomach and the spine. The pancreas has three parts known as the head, the body, and the tail. The pancreas is crucial to the body’s digestive system as it helps to use and store the energy we get from food. Its job is to create enzymes that break down food that is digested as well as create insulin and glucagon that manage blood sugar levels.

There are two types of cancer that form in the pancreas, endocrine tumors and exocrine tumors. Exocrine tumors make up 95% of pancreatic cancer and are formed from the cells in the ducts of the pancreas that carry digestive juices to the intestine. This is known as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas.

The Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Symptoms related to pancreatic cancer are not exclusive to cancer and may be the result of something else. Typically, early detection is difficult as symptoms do not occur until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. If cancer forms in the head of the pancreas, it will likely press down on the bile duct that is connected to the intestines and symptoms may arise while the cancer is still small. If cancer forms in the body or the tail of the pancreas, it will not press down on the bile duct until the cancer has made its way through the pancreas and often beyond. It is important to be aware of the symptoms:

  • Jaundice 
  • Gray or greasy stool
  • Back or belly pain
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Enlarged gallbladder or liver
  • Blood clots
  • Fatty tissue abnormalities

The Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer

Even though pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to detect, especially in an early state, knowing the risk factors will help you understand what to pay attention to, and when to see a doctor. 

  • Smoking cigarettes: The more you smoke, the higher your risk for pancreatic cancer.
  • Age: Diagnosis generally occurs in adults over the age of 45 and is most common in adults in their early 70s
  • Pancreatitis: Adults suffering from an inflamed pancreas are at a higher risk.
  • Obesity: Adults who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30 are at risk, especially women who carry their weight on their stomach.
  • Diabetes: Studies have linked diabetics to an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.

Understanding the risks can put you in control of your health. Consider eating a more balanced diet, exercising on a regular basis, or finally quitting that bad habit of smoking. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent pancreatic cancer from forming in your body. However, if there is a history of pancreatic cancer in your family, or you believe you are at a high risk for pancreatic cancer, make an appointment at Carolina Digestive Health Associates today.