We think of celebrities in their iconic roles as film stars, business leaders, government officials, and musicians. When faced with a medical diagnosis, they also help bring needed awareness to misunderstood diseases. Celebrities like Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, and Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg have helped shine a spotlight on pancreatic cancer. They are also among the ranks of the nearly 54,000 people that receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis each year. While progress is being made to educate the public about pancreatic cancer, it remains one of the most feared forms of cancer. So, what are the facts and fictions of pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer forms in the tissue of the pancreas – a gland that sits between the stomach and the spine. The pancreas produces fluids and hormones that break down food and keep blood sugar levels steady. While it's difficult to detect in the early stages, a family history, diabetes, weight loss, jaundice, blood clots, and abdomen pain are often warning signs. Smoking and obesity also greatly increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Myth: Pancreatic cancer is always fatal.
Fact: Pancreatic cancer can be treated. Many people fear a pancreatic cancer diagnosis because it is the third leading cause of cancer-related death. Early detection is the best defense when treating any form of cancer, but this is difficult with pancreatic cancer. However, treatments like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can prove successful. There are also new clinical trials being conducted to increase the effectiveness of treating pancreatic cancer.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Myth: There is only one form of pancreatic cancer.
Fact: There are two different types of pancreatic cancer. About 95% of cases involve the cells in the pancreas ducts. A rarer form involves tumors that form in the cells of the pancreas where insulin and hormones are produced. Often these tumors turn out to be benign.
Myth: Pancreas cancer screenings are available.
Fact: Unfortunately, there is no screening test to detect pancreatic cancer. Instead, doctors use tests to check the levels of other indicators which may be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
Myth: Younger people don't need to be concerned about pancreatic cancer.
Fact: Pancreatic cancer has occurred in people under 30 years old. Most cases are diagnosed in patients between 60 and 80 years old. The risk of pancreatic cancer increases most drastically after 50 years of age. Everyone, regardless of age, should practice healthy lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of disease, including pancreatic cancer.
Myth: Family history is the biggest indicator of pancreatic cancer.
Fact: While there are genetic mutations that can be passed from parents to children, only around 10% of pancreatic cancer cases are contributed to hereditary reasons. Ninety-percent of cases are contributed to other factors like age, smoking, obesity, and diabetes.
Facing a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is understandably stressful. If you are concerned about your health risks, please contact the August Health Cancer Center Team. We're here to answer any questions you may have.