One of the more frightening forms of cancer around today is pancreatic cancer. Many residents of Manchester and elsewhere who are diagnosed with it may die within weeks or months, and even those who don’t may need end-of-life care within 10 years.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice sometimes work with clients who have been diagnosed with this type of fast-moving cancer. They may have a limited amount of time to get their affairs in order as well as deal with the disease.
Or if they’ve had surgery to remove cancerous tumors, they may be in pain from that and may need to look for ways to change their lifestyle and diet to hopefully keep it from coming back right away.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer. It’s one of the deadliest because people may not detect it until tumors are at a critical size, considered Stage IV. The school predicts that about 57,600 will be diagnosed in 2020 and 47,000 will die.
Unlike some other cancers where there could be lumps, obstructions, or new pain that encourages people to go to their health care provider, people who are discovered to have pancreatic cancer may not have experienced any symptoms or may have confused the symptoms with other medical conditions, such as abdominal pain. In some cases, no one will notice until the tumors grow large enough to affect other organs.
There aren’t also any screening tests at this time that could encourage people to seek further medical advice.
However, if pancreatic cancer is detected early enough, there is still time to remove smaller tumors and improve the survival rate to nearly 40 percent – still not great but better than the poor odds if it’s detected much later.
Research is taking place to learn more about how pancreatic cancer can be triggered, how it can be detected, and how it can be slowed or stopped once it’s found.
Medical experts are also looking at different genetic profiles and lifestyles to see what types of people are more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This could provide some amount of guidance to alert people that they’re at higher risk so they can be extra vigilant for symptoms, which could be everything from nausea to fatigue. Or their providers can pay more attention to this during routine exams.
The American Cancer Society said certain people could be at high risk for pancreatic cancer, including those who have a family history of it as well as other chronic pancreas-related conditions such as pancreatitis. This may be due to something in their genetic history, so genetic testing might be recommended.
The level of current testing may not be able to find this or other specific cancers in a family’s background but could find similar inherited conditions in certain markers or mutations that can show a trend toward certain conditions and cancers, as compared to those who don’t have these markers. Progress has also been made in identifying possible genetic indicators, which can include BRCA2 and p16 as well as the STK11 mutation.
A genetic counselor or trained nurse can explain these distinctions and help analyze results.
Johns Hopkins defines family history as having at least two relatives who have been diagnosed with this type of cancer.
People considered high risk also may qualify for certain tests to look for these tumors. This can include an endoscopic ultrasound or an MRI, which can provide images of what’s happening in the body.
These specific types of tests aren’t necessarily available to or intended for the public, but could be a useful diagnostic tool for people already in this risk category.
Researchers are also looking into the possibility of detecting certain proteins or levels of other materials in the blood that could reveal possible links to this type of cancer hopefully leading to early detection.
People who smoke are believed to increase their risk of this and other types of cancer, and other lifestyle choices may also have an impact such as being overweight, eating red meat regularly, or having long-term diabetes. Individuals over age 50 and age 60 are more likely to have it, as well as those of Ashkenazi Jewish or African-American heritage.
Much attention has been given to pancreatic cancer since it’s so deadly and difficult to detect early. There are several useful organizations that are dedicated to awareness as well as the need for more funding that can be used for research.
People who want to learn more about the genetic side are encouraged to visit the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry, which is a research study that looks for connections in families.
Those who have pancreatic cancer or family members with it are encouraged to register and share their info. There are more than 4,500 families currently registered.
PANCAN, or the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, is a comprehensive resource for individuals and families. There’s information about survival rates at different points, as well as risk factors.
November is considered Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and anyone who cares about finding cures or better detection methods is encouraged to get involved. Increasing funding is great but wearing a purple ribbon also helps with increasing awareness.