With the recent passing of America’s beloved game show host, Alex Trebek, the world is reminded once again of the perils and the frightening nature of pancreatic cancer. This year, almost 58,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of those diagnosed will live past 5 years. With such a high mortality rate, it is important for you to understand more about the disease, the factors that may increase your risk, and symptoms that could be telling you there is a potential problem that needs to be addressed - before it’s too late.

What does the pancreas do?

If you hear the words ‘pancreatic cancer’ but don’t really understand the purpose and function of the pancreas in the first place, you’re not alone. The pancreas is an essential organ that is about 6 inches long and rests in the middle of your abdomen. It serves two important functions that ultimately impact the entire body. First, the pancreas helps produce enzymes that aid in the digestion of the foods that we eat. This is called the exocrine function. Second, the pancreas produces hormones, like insulin, that help regulate blood sugar levels. This is called the endocrine function. A healthy pancreas is vital to the proper functioning of several other key organs, including the brain and liver .

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant tumor that forms in the pancreas. This tumor consists of cells that continue to live after normal cells would die due to a mutation in the cell’s DNA. Left unaddressed, the tumor will grow and begin further impacting the functions of the pancreas and ultimately the organs that depend on it to properly function themselves.

What are the symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer comes with a variety of symptoms that can affect your entire body. Potential symptoms which are more serious in nature include jaundice, severe back pain, severe abdominal pain, blood clots, liver or gallbladder enlargement, and in rare cases diabetes. In addition, there are several other symptoms of pancreatic cancer that can affect your digestive system. The common occurrence of many of these symptoms can make it hard to recognize that they may be indicators of pancreatic cancer. These include:

  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting and nausea
  • feelings of fullness
  • indigestion
  • diarrhea
  • poor digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins
  • bowel obstruction

Why is Pancreatic Cancer so Deadly?

While pancreatic cancer is more rare than other types of cancer, it ranks among the highest leading causes of cancer death in the United States. Why does it rank so high? Unfortunately, most symptoms of pancreatic cancer don’t show up until the more advanced stages of the cancer, making early warning signs a rare occurrence. By the time the symptoms do occur, the cancer has often spread to other areas around the pancreas and even to distant areas of the body. While researchers are making progress in uncovering the mysteries of the causes of and early indicators of the disease, there is currently no reliable screening for pancreatic cancer.

When Should I Check with My Doctor?

If you have questions about pancreatic cancer or have experienced a prolonged period of time with any of the symptoms listed above, schedule a visit with a professional at GI Associates today. Don’t delay, as this is one disease where consistent checkups, early and often, could save your life.

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