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4 Things to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

  • Category: Cancer
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
4 Things to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Though small – about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide – the pancreas has a big job helping with digestion and blood sugar. It sits behind the stomach, deep inside the body, which makes it hard to know when cancer cells have taken hold there. Unfortunately, that means most people don’t experience symptoms until it’s grown significantly or spread elsewhere in the body.

Here are four things to know – including what symptoms may present – about pancreatic cancer:

1. Symptoms are subtle or non-specific

Common issues like abdominal pain, back pain and weight loss don’t necessarily point to cancer and are much more likely to be caused by something else. These vague symptoms often go unchecked, but when more serious issues like jaundice and new onset of diabetes happen, the possibility of pancreatic cancer comes into focus.

2. The cause is unclear

Only about 10% of cases involve family history, so for most patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the exact cause is unclear. Research has shown the combination of certain risk factors -- smoking, diabetes and a poor diet – can increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.

3. There is no preventative screening

Unlike the more accessible colonoscopy or mammogram, there is not a good way to screen for pancreatic cancer. However, research is under way to change that. For example, Mayo Clinic is participating in the National Cancer Institute Pancreatic Cancer Detection Consortium to develop and test new ways to detect early stage pancreatic cancer for use in identifying people at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

4. Treatments and outcomes improving

If pancreatic cancer is diagnosed early, patients may be eligible for surgery, and advancements in surgery have resulted in better outcomes. For example, Baton Rouge General’s Advanced Robotics Institute is the only hospital in Louisiana, and one of very few in the country, to perform the most advanced treatment for pancreatic cancer called the robotic Whipple procedure. The often life-saving procedure is used to treat pancreatic cancer that’s confined to the head of the pancreas.