Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the pancreas. It is generally not detected until it is in advanced stages because it does not display symptoms early on, and the pancreas cannot be felt during a physical exam. There are, however, some symptoms and risk factors you can be aware of to increase your awareness.
What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer usually do not appear until the cancer is in later stages and are often symptoms seen with other diseases. Those symptoms can be:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Blood clots
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Diabetes (or worsening diabetes)
- Itchy skin or rash
- Dark-colored urine
- Nausea or vomiting
What causes pancreatic cancer?
The exact causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown. All that is known is that there are several risk factors that make a person more susceptible to the disease.
What are the risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer?
There are several risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer. Some lifestyle choices can be changed to lower the risk, while others are genetics and unchangeable. Those risk factors are:
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- Diabetes (especially Type 2)
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Hereditary pancreatitis
- Hereditary syndromes due to gene changes or mutations.
- Being male
- Being over the age of 45
- Being of African-American heritage
How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?
Because pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose, your doctor may order a blood test or imaging test to diagnose the issue. An endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is one means of diagnosis. A EUS is a thin tube with a camera attached that is inserted into the mouth and down to the stomach. It allows for imaging of pancreatic walls. In some circumstances, a biopsy may be performed to extract a tissue sample for testing.
If your doctor orders a blood test, they are likely looking for a tumor marker to aid in the diagnosis. If there are high levels of a type of protein released by the pancreas detected in the blood, it can indicate that a tumor is present.
How is pancreatic cancer treated?
There are several options available for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Your doctor will explore these options and find the treatment plan that is best for you. Depending on several factors, your doctor may suggest:
- Surgery to remove some or all of the pancreas and possibly other nearby organs
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
You may also talk to your doctor to see if you are a candidate for clinical trials to test new procedures, drugs, or other therapies.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of pancreatic cancer or fall into a high-risk category, our physicians at Lane Family Practice can assist you with diagnosing and referring you for treatment of your disease. Contact us today to book an appointment so you can start your healing process early.