Doctors Say These are the Signs of Pancreatic Cancer
There's more than a 100 different types of cancer and many are successfully treatable today thanks to advances in medicine and technology. However, pancreatic cancer is much more challenging to treat. There are people who beat the odds, but pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose. The American Cancer Society states, "Pancreatic cancer is hard to find early. The pancreas is deep inside the body, so early tumors can't be seen or felt by health care providers during routine physical exams. People usually have no symptoms until the cancer has become very large or has already spread to other organs."
There's different types of pancreatic, with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas being the most common one, and it's vital to understand which type you have. The ACS emphasizes, "If you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it's very important to know if it's an endocrine cancer or exocrine cancer. They have distinct risk factors and causes, have different signs and symptoms, are diagnosed with different tests, are treated in different ways, and have different outlooks."
It's estimated that over 64,000 people will be diagnosed this year (33,130 men and 30,920 women) and over 50,000 will die (26,620 men and 23,930 women) of pancreatic cancer. While the statistics are grim, it's not an automatic death sentence. There is hope. John Hopkins Medicine says, "Despite the overall poor prognosis and the fact that the disease is mostly incurable, pancreatic cancer has the potential to be curable if caught very early. Up to 10 percent of patients who receive an early diagnosis become disease-free after treatment. For patients who are diagnosed before the tumor grows much or spreads, the average pancreatic cancer survival time is 3 to 3.5 years."
What to Know About Pancreatic Cancer
Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us, "Pancreatic Cancer is an often misunderstood and under-discussed type of cancer with the highest mortality rate of all primary cancers. This deadly disease, together with its associated risk factors and treatment complications, pose a daunting challenge for those affected by it, which is why it is so important to be aware of the types of pancreatic cancer, how to diagnose it, and what treatments are available. Knowing the causes, early warning signs, and potential lifestyle changes one can make to minimize the risks is also essential.
With ongoing advances in medical therapies, those affected by pancreatic cancer have more opportunities to improve their outcome and fight against this deadly disease. Pancreatic cancer is a severe and challenging disease that is hard to diagnose and treat. It has one of the lowest survival rates among all other types of cancer – only 11% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive five years or more. A person's risk for developing the disease increases with age, though it can affect people at any age. Genetics may influence some cases, and lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity, and diabetes can also contribute. Knowing about early signs of pancreatic cancer – such as jaundice, abdominal pain, and nausea – is essential for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Still, these symptoms are usually not noticeable until late in the progression of the disease. Thus, individuals need to be proactive about learning about pancreatic cancer so that if they experience symptoms, they can get appropriate medical attention quickly."
The Connection Between Pancreatic Cancer and Depression
According to Dr. Mitchell, "Pancreatic cancer and depression have long been linked in research, with studies showing that individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are more prone to feelings of depression than those without the diagnosis. Such feelings may range from an overall sense of sadness to severe clinical depression. It is not yet known why pancreatic cancer and depression are tied together.
Still, researchers believe it could have something to do with the suddenness of the diagnosis or the severity of some pancreatic cancer treatments, which can cause a patient significant physical pain or difficulty in getting proper nutrition. To protect one's mental well-being, individuals facing a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer should seek help from their physicians by discussing any concerning signs of depression they experience and also reach out for necessary emotional support outside the doctor's office."
Smoking and Poor Diet Increase the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer
The American Cancer Society states, "Smoking is one of the most important risk factors for pancreatic cancer. The risk of getting pancreatic cancer is about twice as high among people who smoke compared to those who have never smoked. About 25% of pancreatic cancers are thought to be caused by cigarette smoking. Cigar smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco products also increase the risk. However, the risk of pancreatic cancer starts to drop once a person stops smoking."
Maintaining a healthy weight is also important in helping reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. The ASC says, "Being very overweight (obese) is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Obese people (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or more) are about 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Gaining weight as an adult can also increase risk. Carrying extra weight around the waistline may be a risk factor even in people who are not very overweight."
How Pancreatic Cancer is Diagnosed
Dr. Mitchell says, "Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer typically involves a combination of imaging tests, blood tests, and biopsy. The most common imaging tests used to diagnose pancreatic cancer include computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. These tests can provide detailed images of the pancreas and help to identify abnormalities that may be cancerous. Blood tests, such as the CA 19-9 test, can also be used to help diagnose pancreatic cancer. This test measures the levels of a protein called carbohydrate antigen 19-9 in the blood.
High levels of this protein can be a sign of pancreatic cancer. A biopsy, which involves removing a sample of tissue from the pancreas and examining it under a microscope, is the most accurate way to diagnose pancreatic cancer. A biopsy can be done in several ways, including through a needle biopsy or during surgery. It is important to note that pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because it often does not cause noticeable symptoms. If you are experiencing any concerning symptoms or are at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional about your concerns."
Signs of Pancreatic Cancer
Dr. Mitchell says, "Pancreatic cancer is a serious illness, and recognizing the signs early on can help ensure that any potential treatment is effective. Early warning signs of pancreatic cancer can include abdominal pain, back pain that increases over time, unintentional weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), loss of appetite, digestive problems such as diarrhea or steatorrhea (fatty stool), weakness or fatigue, blood clots, nausea and vomiting.
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should consult your doctor to figure out the cause. While pancreatic cancer may be the diagnosis in some cases, it's important to remember that most of these symptoms are also associated with other illnesses and conditions. An accurate diagnosis comes from visiting a doctor and receiving professional medical care."