The widely publicized announcement from Alex Trebek that he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer has raised awareness about this very dangerous cancer. How could someone with presumably the best of medical care be diagnosed so late? What symptoms should he have been listening for and what screening test could he have taken?
Pancreatic cancer is the fastest growing cancer in North America
Pancreatic cancer is the fasting growing cause of cancer deaths in North America. Deaths caused by pancreatic cancer surpassed breast cancer a few years ago, and pancreatic cancer remains on track to overtake colon cancer to move to the second-highest leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States around 2020.
One of the most complicated issues with catching pancreatic cancer early is that symptoms are not always present or may come and go. Below I have listed some of the most important symptoms that patients that visit our clinic have often experienced.
Watch for these 11 symptoms of pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer can cause jaundice. Your eyes and skin may turn yellow, and you may feel itchy. Jaundice is sometimes a symptom of pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage depending on whether the initial tumor begins to block the bile duct. It is almost always a sign of pancreatic cancer at a later stage.
2. Abdominal pain
Abdominal pain is a major clinical feature in pancreatic cancer, in fact, up to 80% of patients experience it. Often reported is pain that may be more severe at night. Of course there are many other conditions that abdominal pain might be misdiagnosed with, but pain together with other symptoms should definitely be checked out.
3. Unintended weight loss
Pancreatic cancer often results in patients experiencing weigh loss. Depending on the position of the tumor, this can occur even when it is relatively small. Weight loss is typically the result of the tumor interupting the ability of your body to digest food but it could simply be related to a loss of appetite due to abdominal pain.
Pancreatic cancer can cause digestive problems, which may cause gas, bloating and a prolonged feeling that you are full. In some cases pancreatic cancer can also cause the build-up of extra fluid in the abdomen (called ascites). This causes the belly to swell and stretch out.
5. Pain in the back or stomach
Pain in the mid-back or abdomen may be caused by a tumor pushing against nerves or organs near the pancreas or blocking the digestive tract.
6. Changing Stools
Many pancreatic cancer patients have diarrhea, constipation or both. Diarrhea (loose, watery, oily or foul-smelling stools) can be caused by insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes in the digestive system. Constipation can result from the digestive system working too slowly, causing stools to become dry, hard and difficult to pass.
7. You have a low BMI but were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes
Some research has shown that a sudden onset of Type 2 diabetes in those who have a low body mass index and no family history of diabetes may be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.
Dermatitis, or eczema, is sometimes associated with pancreatic cancer, particularly if it behaves in an atypical or aggressive manner or is resistent to standard therapies to treat this condition.
Many studies over recent years have reported that patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are twice as likely to suffer depression, even before physical symptoms of pancreatic cancer present.
10. Blood clots
Cancer-assisted thrombosis is a relatively common occurence. Some studies have show it to be even more pronounced in the case of pancreatic cancer.
11. Fever and chills
There are two ways that pancreatic cancer can case fever and chills. First, pancreatic cancers typically block the common bile duct and this can lead to infection. Second, fever and chills are part of the body's response to an inflamed pancreas.
Research has identified 9 risk factors that increase your risk for pancreatic cancer
While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is far from being known, research has highlighted 9 risk factors that increase risk.
- Family history: Risk increases if multiple close relatives had the diseases or were diagnosed under 50.
- Diet: Too much red and processed meats can increase risk while fruit and vegetables decrease risk.
- Obesity: Obese people are have 20% higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Race: African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer.
- Smoking: Smoking increases your risk by 20-30%.
- Gender: Men are slightly more likely to get this cancer.
- Age: Chances of developing pancreatic cancer increase with age.
- Diabetes: Shown to increase risk.
- Pancreatitus: Chronic pancreatitis increases risk of pancreatic cancer.
How Prenuvo can help diagnose pancreatic cancer early when it can be best treated even when you don't have symptoms.
The Prenuvo scan is almost uniquely equipped to identify cancer anywere in the body at a very early stage, often before any symptoms have presented themselves.
This is important because, lets face it, any one of us will have at some point one or more symptoms of pancreatic cancer and often several risk factors! If we can't rely totally on listening to our bodies, we need a screen that doesn't depend on this.
At Prenuvo, we visualize the pancreas in three different way in order to diagnose not only pancreatic cancer but several non-cancerous pancreatic conditions.
1. Tumor detection
We use a unique MRI sequence that is sensitive to tumor detection and can see tumors as small as 8mms in the pancreas.
2. Bile and pancreatic duct blockages
We can literally trace the outline of both the pancreatic duct (that joins the common bile duct) and the common bile duct (that then joins the upper part of the small intestine). Pancreatic cancer loves to block these ducts but our evaluation indentifies any blockages relatively easily.
3. Pancreatic composition
We identify any lesions in the pancreas and can discriminate concerning lesions from benign lesions.
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