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Pancreatic Cancer: Know the Symptoms and Risks

The pancreas is located in the abdomen. The lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 78, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. A person's chances of developing the disease are increased by certain risk factors such as age, gender, race and cigarette smoking. Knowing the risk factors and the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer can help save your or a loved one's life.

What to Look Out For

Pancreatic cancer is sometimes called the "silent" disease because its symptoms usually go unnoticed by patients and doctors until its later stages. There are certain symptoms that you can look out for, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Pain in the mid-back or upper abdomen
  • Digestive difficulties, such as indigestion or nausea
  • Diabetes
  • Blood clots

What Are Your Risks?

There are different factors that can put you at risk of developing pancreatic cancer. There are some risks that you cannot do anything about, such as age, gender and race.  But there are other factors that you have a direct influence on, such as smoking. A poor diet and lack of physical activity can also put you at risk of developing this type of cancer. Some interesting stats about pancreatic cancer from the American Cancer Society include:

  • Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 60.
  • People who smoke are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • People who have had a family member diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are two to three times more likely to develop the disease than those who do not have a family history.
  • African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer than other individuals who are of Asian, Caucasian or Hispanic descent.
  • Men are 30 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women.

Expert Care for Pancreatic Cancer

Once a person has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If the pancreatic cancer has spread and surgical removal of the pancreas tumor is not an option, surgery can still be helpful to relieve a patient's symptoms. "If surgical removal is not an option, sometimes other surgical procedures can be used to improve the quality of life for our patients," said Drexel Medicine pancreatic surgeon and surgical oncology specialist Wilbur Bowne, MD. "Symptoms that can be addressed through surgery include nausea, jaundice, vomiting and pain." Bowne, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine, added, "Our team of specialists can bypass blockages of the pancreatic or bile ducts or the gastrointestinal tract to help alleviate these symptoms. Our team can also cut nerves or perform nerve blocks to reduce pain."

Drexel Cancer Care

Drexel Cancer Care utilizes the latest medical breakthroughs to treat all forms of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. Our specialists are located centrally in Philadelphia, offering patients easy access to advanced cancer care, and are committed to providing patients with compassionate, comprehensive cancer treatment. Drexel Cancer Care also provides patients with access to numerous support groups. These groups are offered free of charge to patients, families and caregivers.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.


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