Pancreatic cancer is in the category of top five leading cancer deaths, is nearly impossible to detect early, and difficult to successfully treat. Because of the location of the pancreas, there is no screening or test to find cancer in an early stage and no screening has been able to lower the risk of dying from pancreatic cancer. Despite these upsetting results, awareness and education of this disease can bring hope to many. Our doctors at Needham Gastroenterology are committed to raising awareness about the risks and symptoms of pancreatic cancer so that you and your loved ones can find peace of mind.

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

To understand pancreatic cancer, it’s important to understand the role of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ behind your stomach that aids the body in the digestive process. It creates enzymes that help break down the food you consume, as well as hormones like insulin and glucose that control blood sugar levels. It’s a small part of your body with a really big role! The most common form of pancreatic cancer is called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. It is an exocrine tumor that forms in the ducts lining the pancreas and makes up 95% of all pancreatic cancer.

What Are The Causes?

There are no known specific causes of pancreatic cancer, but there are certain risk factors that may indicate someone has a higher chance of diagnosis. One major risk factor is smoking cigarettes. Another risk factor is obesity. Someone with a BMI (body mass index) of at least 30 has a greater potential for pancreatic cancer, especially a woman who carries her weight on her stomach. Increasing age also increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Adults over the age of 45 are at risk, although the majority of pancreatic cancer patients were in their early 70s at the time of diagnosis. Adults who have chronic pancreatitis or diabetes are also at a higher risk. Several of the risk factors are within your control. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may go a long way in preventing you from experiencing the physical and emotional pain of pancreatic cancer.

What Are the Symptoms?

It’s important to know that the symptoms listed below are not exclusive to pancreatic cancer. They may indicate another, less-serious issue. However, If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are unsure of its cause, please make an appointment to meet with a doctor. 

  • Jaundice
  • Grey or greasy stool
  • Dark urine 
  • Belly or back pain
  • Unintentional weight loss 
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Enlarged liver
  • Blood clots

In most cases, the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas by the time any of these symptoms are noticed. It is very rare that symptoms are evident while the cancer cells are still small and contained. This is why it’s important to make an appointment as soon as possible if you believe you are experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of pancreatic cancer. If you are at high risk or have a family history of pancreatic cancer, our fantastic team at Needham Gastroenterology is here to walk you through any questions or concerns you may have.