Pancreatic cancer can be treated if caught early, but the signs are often subtle. Therefore, the disease is usually missed until it is in later, more serious stages. We list several warning signs that can help you.
Pancreatic Cancer: What Does The Pancreas Do?
The pancreas has two main jobs in the body: to make juices that help digest food and to make hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that help control blood sugar levels. The digestive juices are made by exocrine pancreas cells, which is where about 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin.
The disease accounts for approximately 3 percent of all cancers and about 7 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). About two-thirds of patients are at least 65 years old, and the average age at the time of diagnosis is 71, according to the ACS.
Only 8.2 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive for five years. The pancreas is deep inside the body, and early tumors can’t be detected by standard physical exams. People usually have no symptoms until the cancer has already spread to other organs. Even so, the NCI advises people to consult their doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:
Pancreatic Cancer: Jaundice
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance made by the liver. Dark urine, too, can be a sign of jaundice, and bilirubin buildup can also lead to itchiness on the skin.
Pancreatic cancer: Light-colored or greasy stools
Bilirubin helps give stools their brown color, so when the bile duct is blocked, stools may be gray or pale. Pancreatic cancer can also make it difficult for the intestines to help break down fats, so stools may become greasy and float in the toilet.
Pancreatic Cancer: Belly Pain
Pain in the belly or back is common with pancreatic cancer. The cancer may also spread to the nerves surrounding the pancreas, which often causes back pain.
Pancreatic cancer: Loss of appetite and weight loss:
Unintended weight loss and loss of appetite can be warning signs of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer: Nausea and Vomiting
The cancer can press on the far end of the stomach and partially block it, making it hard for food to pass. This may cause nausea, vomiting and pain after eating.
Pancreatic Cancer: Prevention Tips
While some risk factors for pancreatic cancer cannot be controlled, such as age or genetics, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Stop smoking. About 20 percent to 30 percent of the disease are traced to cigarette smoking.
Lose weight. Very overweight people are about 20 percent more likely to develop this disease.
Limit exposure to certain chemicals. Heavy and repeated exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace, such as those used in dry cleaning and metalworking, may raise a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer.