The silent killer: Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer and recognizing its symptoms is important. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the U.S. approximately 57,600 people will develop pancreatic cancer in 2020, and of these, 47,050 will succumb to the disease. This alarming death rate is why raising awareness of this condition and diagnosing it early is key. Veeral M. Oza, MD, shared the signs and symptoms to look for when it comes to pancreatic cancer.
“The pancreas is an organ that measures about six to seven inches long and sits behind the stomach. It is involved in the secretion of hormones and enzymes that help to regulate your metabolism and the levels of chemicals such as glucose,” said Dr. Oza.
What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?
Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur after the age of 60 and rarely before the age of 40. The largest risk factors for pancreatic cancer are smoking and a history of chronic pancreatitis or inflammation in the pancreas.
What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Dr. Oza said early signs of pancreatic cancer are vague and non-specific making early diagnosis difficult. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Pancreatic cysts
- A new diagnosis of diabetes after age 60
“Unfortunately, because of these vague symptoms, pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages, when the cancer has spread to other organs. Nonetheless, if you or someone you know has any of these vague symptoms, it is important to discuss this with your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist,” said Dr. Oza.
However, screening should be performed for individuals who have a higher risk for pancreatic cancer due to a family history (parent, sibling, or child). Approximately 5–10% of pancreatic cancers have an inherited genetic component. Please talk to your doctor if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer.
“Let’s come together and make a promise to our families, friends and ourselves to stay aware of our own health and pay attention to warning signs of this silent killer,” said Dr. Oza.
Improving care for pancreatic cancer
Prisma Health brings together multiple specialists to develop an individual treatment plan for patients with pancreatic cancer based on their unique needs. Our program has been designated by the National Pancreas Foundation as South Carolina’s first clinical center of excellence for pancreatic cancer.Learn More