With the recent deaths of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek from pancreatic cancer, a spotlight has been put on the disease. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and Upstate doctors are urging people to know the symptoms to look out for.
Across South Carolina, about 1,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed each year, according to a release from Prisma Health. Approximately 800 of those patients face low odds of survival.
“Unfortunately, because of these vague symptoms, pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages, when the cancer has spread to other organs.” – Dr. Veeral Oza, gastroenterology specialist, Prisma Health
The pancreas secretes hormones and enzymes that assist in regulating a person’s blood sugar and metabolism.
Johns Hopkins University reported that the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is low — between 5%-10%. And according to the American Cancer Society, the disease is responsible for 3% of all cancers in the U.S. as well as 7% of the number of cancer deaths.
Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose early. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Weight loss
- Gastrointestinal problems (indigestion, nausea, vomiting, etc.)
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Lack of appetite
- New diabetes diagnosis after the age of 60
Risk factors of pancreatic cancer include smoking, chronic pancreatitis and inflammation of the pancreas. People with a family history of pancreatic cancer should be screened as 5%-10% of pancreatic cancer cases have a genetic factor, according to a release from Prisma.
“Unfortunately, because of these vague symptoms, pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages, when the cancer has spread to other organs. If you experience these persistent symptoms, it is important to talk with your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist,” said Dr. Veeral Oza, gastroenterology specialist at Prisma Health.