November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Take this month to become aware of your risks, find out what you can do to decrease those risks, and help spread the word to friends and family.
What Is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas is a small organ that helps your body with digestion, especially digestion of fats. Pancreatitis, which may be more familiar to most people, is an inflamed or infected pancreas. Pancreatic cancer occurs when a malignant tumor forms in the pancreas. Just like any type of cancer, early detection is the key to limiting damage to the body. Sadly, however, pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect early since the symptoms usually don’t show up until the cancer has spread to other organs like the liver. This difficulty puts pancreatic cancer at a low seven percent survival rate worldwide. With a statistic like this, it makes sense that we should increase our awareness of this deadly cancer by understanding the risks and taking steps now to reduce them.
Are You At Risk?
There are various things that put you at risk for pancreatic cancer. Some factors cannot be changed, but are still important to understand in assessing your risk. These include things like family history and genetics. Like many cancers, you can be predisposed to getting pancreatic cancer if one or more family members have it or if you carry certain genetic mutations passed down from your parents. People older than 45 are much more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those that are younger, and the risk increases with age. The average age of a person diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 71 years old. Men and African Americans are also slightly more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women and people of other ethnicities.
There are some risk factors that fall within your control, and these are especially important to pay attention to. Tobacco use is a big one—a person who smokes has twice the risk of getting pancreatic cancer as a non-smoker. Being overweight is another major risk factor. Obesity raises risk, but so does carrying excess weight around the midsection, even for people who are not obese or very overweight. Another important risk factor for pancreatic cancer is exposure to chemicals. People in occupations like dry cleaning and metalworking may be at a higher risk, because of their regular contact with harsh chemicals that may are known to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Even if you have one or more risk factor—controllable or not—this does not mean you will get pancreatic cancer. It is in your best interests to focus on the things you can control. Stopping smoking alone will cut your risk in half! Making some lifestyle changes to promote a healthy weight, like eating well and increasing activity, will not only reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer but of many other diseases as well. If you are in an environment where toxic chemicals are present, be sure to take extra care following safety protocols. It is recommended to talk to your doctor about getting regular screenings if you are in a high-risk industry.
How Can I Help Others?
Now that you’ve increased your own awareness, don’t stop there! There are many ways you can help this November. Start by spreading your knowledge—share an article, start a conversation, post a message on social media. There are also many ways to donate, both monetarily and through giving your time as a volunteer (find out more at www.pancreaticcanceraction.org). If you or someone you know suffers from pancreatic cancer, share your story. The more the information gets heard, the greater the chance of increasing that scary seven percent survival rate. Your awareness could save a life!
If you have some of the listed risk factors or just want to know more about pancreatic cancer, make an appointment with GI Associates today. We can help you evaluate your own risk or symptoms and determine a plan that makes sense for you.