Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

Facts & Figures

Pancreatic cancer, artwork
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November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Most people are not always as knowledgeable about pancreatic cancer as breast, lung, or prostate cancer, but the disease is just as debilitating.

The pancreas is a fish-shaped organ that lies behind the stomach, deep in the body. It measures about 6 inches long and less than 2 inches wide. The pancreas is made up of exocrine glands (which make pancreatic enzymes that break down food in the intestines) and clusters of cells (which make hormones like insulin that help balance the amount of sugar in the blood).

Pancreatic cancer starts when the exocrine glands or the endocrine cells form tumors, which can spread throughout the body. Cancers formed by the exocrine cells are much more common.

When pancreatic cancer spreads, the cancer cells may also be found in nearby lymph nodes, the liver, the lungs or in fluid collected from the abdomen.

Facts About Pancreatic Cancer

  • 41,780 Americans will die of pancreatic cancer in 2016.
  • 53,070 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016.
  • Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death, with 7 percent of all cancer deaths.
  • Only 27 percent of people diagnosed with be alive five years from diagnosis.
  • Four percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will live to reach the five-year survival rate.
  • Pancreatic cancer is most frequently diagnosed among people 65-74 years of age.
  • The earlier pancreatic cancer is caught, the better chance a person has of surviving five years after being diagnosed.

    Is Pancreatic Cancer Common?

    Compared to other cancers, pancreatic cancer is relatively rare—coming in at number 12 for the number of estimated new cases in 2015. However, the chances for survival from pancreatic cancer are poor, as the population distribution of people who die of the disease is similar to that of the people who are diagnosed.

    The average survival time from diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is low.

    A reason for such a poor survival rate is partly because the disease is difficult to detect early and even more difficult to treat. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often very similar to that of many other illnesses and don't always show until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.

    Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

    Although researchers are unsure as to what exactly causes pancreatic cancer, the following risk factors of the disease have been identified:

    • African Americans have higher rates of pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality than any other racial or ethnic group.
    • Pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality rates are higher in men than in women.
    • Cigarette smoking and family history of pancreatic cancer are the most important risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
    • Personal history of diabetes
    • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
    • Obesity

    Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

    • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
    • Abdominal pain
    • Unintended weight loss
    • Nausea/vomiting
    • Loss of appetite
    • Itchy skin
    • Unexpected onset of diabetes
    • Changes in stool and urine color

    All of these symptoms warrant a medical evaluation. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, see your doctor. Even if they are not related to pancreatic cancer in the end, they do warrant a medical evaluation.

    Standard Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer

    Currently standard treatment for pancreatic cancer may include:

    Your doctor is the best source of information for testing and treatment available for cancer of the pancreas. You should consult with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above.

    Sources:

    American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Pancreatic Cancer. 2016. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreaticcancer/detailedguide/pancreatic-cancer-key-statistics

    Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2012, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,  based on November 2014 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2015.

    National Cancer Instituve. What you need to know about cancer of the pancreas. May 2010. 

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