Pancreatic cancer – what you need to know

It is referred to as a silent killer as it’s difficult to detect and spreads so quickly.

Diagram of liver and pancreas

Surgery offers the best chance for long term survival, although only 15% of patients are diagnosed early enough to be eligible for surgery.

The most common form of surgery for removal of a pancreatic tumor is the Whipple procedure and may be followed with chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy/radiation.

This is also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy,  a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), the gallbladder and the bile duct.

The Whipple procedure is a difficult and demanding operation and can have serious risks. However, this surgery is often lifesaving, particularly for people with cancer. If there were ever a case for early diagnosis, pancreatic cancer is it.

For those of you who have “hung in there”, this doesn’t make wonderful reading I know, so I thank you. This is important, I got checked and had mild acute pancreatitis which passed in a day or two, but not everyone is going to be lucky.Early diagnosis is important and early testing procedures have promise such as

If in doubt about pancreatic disease – ask your doctor.

Watch for these symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Jaundice as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause jaundice. Your eyes and skin may turn yellow, and you may feel itchy. Jaundice is sometimes a symptom of pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage depending on whether the initial tumour begins to block the bile duct. It is almost always a sign of pancreatic cancer at a later stage.

Abdominal pain as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Abdominal pain is a major clinical feature in pancreatic cancer, in fact, up to 80% of patients experience it. Often reported is pain that may be more severe at night. Of course there are many other conditions that abdominal pain might be misdiagnosed with, but pain together with other symptoms should definitely be checked out.

Unintended weight loss as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer often results in patients experiencing weigh loss. Depending on the position of the tumour, this can occur even when it is relatively small. Weight loss is typically the result of the tumour interrupting the ability of your body to digest food but it could simply be related to a loss of appetite due to abdominal pain.

Bloating as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause digestive problems, which may cause gas, bloating and a prolonged feeling that you are full. In some cases pancreatic cancer can also cause the build-up of extra fluid in the abdomen (called ascites). This causes the belly to swell and stretch out.

Pain in the back or stomach as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Pain in the mid-back or abdomen may be caused by a tumor pushing against nerves or organs near the pancreas or blocking the digestive tract.

Changing Stools as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Many pancreatic cancer patients have diarrhea, constipation or both. Diarrhea (loose, watery, oily or foul-smelling stools) can be caused by insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes in the digestive system. Constipation can result from the digestive system working too slowly, causing stools to become dry, hard and difficult to pass.

If you have a low BMI but were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Some research has shown that a sudden onset of Type 2 diabetes in those who have a low body mass index and no family history of diabetes may be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Dermatitis as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Dermatitis, or eczema, is sometimes associated with pancreatic cancer, particularly if it behaves in an atypical or aggressive manner or is resistant to standard therapies to treat this condition.

Depression as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Many studies over recent years have reported that patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are twice as likely to suffer depression, even before physical symptoms of pancreatic cancer present.

Blood clots as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Cancer-assisted thrombosis is a relatively common occurence. Some studies have show it to be even more pronounced in the case of pancreatic cancer.

Fever and chills as a symptom of pancreatic cancer

There are two ways that pancreatic cancer can case fever and chills. First, pancreatic cancers typically block the common bile duct and this can lead to infection. Second, fever and chills are part of the body’s response to an inflamed pancreas.

While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is far from being known, research has highlighted 9 risk factors that increase risk.

  • Family history: Risk increases if multiple close relatives had the diseases or were diagnosed under 50.
  • Diet: Too much red and processed meats can increase risk while fruit and vegetables decrease risk.
  • Obesity: Obese people are have 20% higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Race: African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases your risk by 20-30%.
  • Gender: Men are slightly more likely to get this cancer.
  • Age: Chances of developing pancreatic cancer increase with age.
  • Diabetes: Shown to increase risk.
  • Pancreatitus: Chronic pancreatitis increases risk of pancreatic cancer.

Antioxidant Trio Slashes Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Researchers analyzed a recent study in GUT when the seven-day food diaries of more than 23,500 people aged 40 to 74. Forty-nine people developed pancreatic cancer within 10 years of entering the study. Researchers then compared diets among people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to those of nearly 4,000 people without pancreatic cancer.

People who ate more selenium were 50% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared to those who ate the least amounts of selenium-rich foods, and those whose vitamin C, E, and selenium intake was in the top 75% were 67% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who ate the lowest amount of foods rich in this trio of antioxidants.

Researchers only looked at foods rich in these nutrients.

See antioxidants in action

Stephen Bray 2019

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