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Simple Ways to Avoid Pancreatic Cancer, Say Doctors

Pancreatic cancer often doesn't give warning signs, but there's ways to help lower the risk according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Pancreatic cancer is considered one of the deadliest cancers because it's difficult to diagnose and is oftentimes discovered in later stages when treatment isn't effective. According to the American Cancer Society, "About 62,210 people (32,970 men and 29,240 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. About 49,830 people (25,970 men and 23,860 women) will die of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the US and about 7% of all cancer deaths." While genetics and age do play a role in the risk of pancreatic cancer, so do unhealthy habits. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Michael Chuong, medical director of Proton Therapy, physician director of MRI-Guided Radiation Therapy, and director of Radiation Oncology Clinical Research at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida who shares ways to help lower your risk of pancreatic cancer. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Pancreatic Cancer

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas

Dr. Chuong says, "The pancreas is an organ in the upper abdomen that is responsible for making digestive enzymes and also regulating blood sugar by secreting hormones such as insulin.  Pancreatic cancer is the 4th most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States.  The death rates are especially high because pancreatic cancers are usually not diagnosed until advanced stages when cancer cells have already spread to other organs."


Who is at Risk?

Doctor examine an x-ray picture of pancreas

Dr. Chuong explains, "The main risk factors for pancreatic cancer include smoking, a diet high in saturated fats and processed meats, obesity, physical inactivity, and chronic pancreatitis.  About 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have a genetic predisposition and may have others in their family also diagnosed with the same disease."


Causes of Pancreatic Cancer

chemical plant near water

According to  Dr. Chuong, "Pancreatic cancer forms when changes, also known as mutations, occur in the DNA of normal pancreas cells leading to uncontrolled growth that the body cannot control.  The exact mechanisms behind the cause of these changes are largely unknown although are thought to be caused by environmental, dietary, and sometimes hereditary factors."


What Should People Know About Pancreatic Cancer?


"The only known cure for pancreatic cancer is surgery, which is usually only effective when pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at an early stage,"  Dr. Chuong says. "Some patients with advanced pancreatic cancer who are not initially candidates for surgery might eventually become eligible depending on how their cancer responds to chemotherapy and sometimes also radiation therapy."


Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Portrait of man with no appetite in front of the meal

Dr. Chuong states, "The most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite, upper abdominal pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, and clay-colored stools.  If you develop these symptoms, then seek immediate medical attention." 


Don't Smoke

stop smoking

"Cigarettes contain carcinogens that have been directly linked to an increase in developing pancreatic cancer,"  Dr. Chuong tells us. 


Watch Your Weight

Woman sitting at the gym with pink pilates ball.

Dr. Chuong emphasizes, "Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.  Obesity is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer."


Your Diet Matters

woman eating pizza in bed
Shutterstock / Doucefleur

Dr. Chuong advises, "Develop healthy eating patterns that include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Avoid eating large quantities of processed meats and highly processed foods.  Also, avoid heavy alcohol consumption that can result in chronic pancreatitis, which is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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