Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas—an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones (insulin) that help regulate your blood sugar. Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include upper abdominal pain that may radiate to your back, yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice), loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, and blood clots. See your doctor if you experience any of these or other unexplained signs and symptoms that bother you. Many diseases and conditions other than cancer may cause similar signs and symptoms, so your doctor may check for these conditions as well as for pancreatic cancer.

It is not clear what causes pancreatic cancer. Factors that may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer include, being African American, being overweight or obese, chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), diabetes, personal or family history of pancreatic cancer, and smoking.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable screening tests for pancreatic cancer. Diagnostic studies usually employed include sonography, CAT scanning, and advanced endoscopic exams. Once the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is confirmed, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. Your cancer’s stage helps determine what treatments are available to you. Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer as well as on your age, overall health, and personal preferences. Surgery, to eliminate the tumor, if it is confined to the pancreas, radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells before and/or after surgery, and chemotherapy, to kill cancer cells that have spread beyond the pancreas are typical treatment options.

Learning you have a life threatening illness can be devastating. While there are no easy answers the following suggestions may help. Learn what you can about your illness, assemble a support system, and find someone to talk with, connect with other cancer survivors, and come to terms with your illness.

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