November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, a time to increase attention and education surrounding this often-misunderstood disease. It is our opportunity to empower people affected by pancreatic cancer and motivate communities to be more involved in programs that promote prevention, early detection, and screening.
Facts About Pancreatic Cancer
Every day, more than 1,257 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of the 62,000 Americans that will be diagnosed in 2022, sadly, nearly 50,000 of those are expected to die from the disease. After lung and colon cancer, pancreatic cancer ranks as the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. While mortality rates for many other cancers are dropping, pancreatic cancer death rates are rising.
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect early because the pancreas is located deep within the abdomen, making it challenging for doctors to detect a tumor during a physical exam. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are common in other diseases and, therefore, are often misdiagnosed as another health condition. These symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, jaundice, itchy skin, dark-colored urine, and light-colored stools. And many of these symptoms do not develop until the cancer has advanced.
Early detection and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer have proven to be challenging as there is no standard or established early detection method or diagnostic tool. However, in those who are more at risk for the disease, imaging and blood-based diagnostics may be able to identify pancreatic cancer in its early stages.
Screening and Testing for Pancreatic Cancer
There is no standard screening test for pancreatic cancer for the general population or people who are at low or average risk for the disease. However, there are early detection or screening methods for people who are at high risk. Whether a doctor recommends that you undergo screening will likely depend on certain risk factors related to your age, smoking history, alcohol consumption, weight, current health conditions, and family history.
As people age, their chance of developing pancreatic cancer rises. Pancreatic cancer typically affects adults over the age of 45, with 90 percent over 55 and 70 percent of patients over 65. According to research, those who are obese or overweight are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Chronic heavy drinking also can raise the chance of developing pancreatic cancer because it increases the likelihood of recurrent pancreatitis. Research also reveals that people with a smoking habit are 2-3 times more likely to develop cancer than nonsmokers.
Certain health conditions like diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, Hepatitis B infection, and cirrhosis also increase risk for pancreatic cancer. Rare inherited genetic mutations also can significantly increase the risk for pancreatic cancer. If pancreatic cancer runs in the family, you may be at risk for familial pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is typically discovered by a series of tests once many symptoms have manifested because it cannot be easily accessed during a physical examination. These tests may involve imaging, endoscopic ultrasound, ultrasound-guided biopsies, or blood tests to look for tumor markers or high concentrations of carbohydrate antigen, a protein secreted by pancreatic cancer cells.
Contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology today for more information about pancreatic cancer and treatment options. Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology has multiple facilities located in the Tampa Bay area. Click HERE for more information.