Out of all major cancers, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate.
The pancreas is a 6-inch long gland behind the stomach that produces two important hormones: glucagon and insulin. It helps the body break down food and regulate blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer is a disease where malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas, notes the National Cancer Institute. This particular form of cancer occurs when abnormal cells in your pancreas start to grow and divide out of control. The cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown but some risk factors include smoking, being very overweight, working with pesticides and chemicals, and genetics.
The biggest obstacle that occurs in the diagnosis of the disease is that it is difficult to detect early. Statistics around recovery are also grim as it has the lowest survival rate of all major cancers, reports TODAY. More than 90 percent of patients die within five years of learning they have pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society as per the outlet. Pancreatic cancer makes up about 3 percent of cancer diagnoses in the US and 7 percent of cancer deaths.
Due to the position of the pancreas in the body, it is particularly difficult to detect cancer in the early stages. The pancreas is hidden behind other organs including the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and bile ducts. As a result, many times the disease is detected when it becomes large and spreads outside of the gland. But if it is detected early, chances of recovery increase. This is why it's best to visit your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms that occur regularly and don't seem to be going away.
What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Unlike in other cancers, like breast cancer, it's hard to find cancerous "lumps" on the body, when it comes to pancreatic cancer signs. The symptoms of this type of cancer can be vague and mimic the warning signs of other illnesses. These include:
Unexplained weight loss.
Loss of appetite.
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
Nausea and vomiting.
Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back.
Today marks the start of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, a time where everyone comes together to give pancreatic cancer the recognition it needs!— Pancreatic Cancer Action (@OfficialPCA) November 1, 2020
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How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?
If you have these symptoms a doctor will review them and take a look at your medical history. Cancer can be detected with imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound. Biopsy of the pancreas and certain blood tests can also help doctors diagnose the disease.
How can this be treated?
A number of factors come into play before finding the best treatment for the patient. This includes age, other health conditions, the stage (extent) of the cancer, etc. In the early stages, surgery to remove part or all of the pancreas is an option. Chemotherapy and radiation are also options but these can be hit or miss. Certain kinds of Immunotherapy stimulates a person’s own immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells more effectively and is sometimes used to treat pancreatic cancer.
If you've been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you and help you figure which one is best for you.