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      Should I be Screened for Pancreatic Cancer?

      Pancreas Image

      Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare cancer but also a deadly one. According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the U.S. and about 7% of all cancer deaths. Diagnosis – like many cancers – can be scary and overwhelming for individuals.

      Because of the overall low prevalence of pancreatic cancer, current screening efforts are mainly directed at those with a high risk of developing it. But let’s step back and take a look at what pancreatic cancer is and who is most at risk.

      What is Pancreatic Cancer?

      The pancreas is a gland deep in the abdomen, behind the stomach, that is part of the digestive and endocrine systems. It is situated near the liver, gallbladder (where bile is stored) and the beginning of the small intestine (duodenum). The pancreas makes juices (enzymes) that help with digestion as well as important hormones such as insulin that control the level of sugar in the bloodstream. Pancreatic cancer is a condition in which cells grow abnormally and form a mass or tumor. But not all masses are cancerous. Benign conditions such as chronic pancreatitis and autoimmune pancreatitis can resemble cancer of the pancreas.

      Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

      Common symptoms include yellowed skin or eyes (jaundice), pale-colored stool, back pain, unexplained weight loss and poor blood glucose (blood sugar) control. However, people with pancreatic cancer may not have any symptoms or the symptoms can be confused with those of arthritis (back pain), gallstones or chronic pancreatitis (pain, diarrhea, weight loss). Unfortunately, by the time most patients develop symptoms, the cancer has become difficult to treat.

      Who is at Risk for Pancreatic Cancer?

      While pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon, some people are more likely to develop it than others. Some of the risk factors include:

      1. Smoking. Smokers are up to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smokers.
      2. Family history. Having a close relative such as parent or sibling with pancreatic, colon or ovarian cancer can increase your risk.
      3. Obesity. Very overweight people are about 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
      4. Chemical exposure. Heavy exposure at work to certain chemicals used in the dry cleaning and metal-working industries may raise a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer.
      5. Age. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases as we age, with almost all patients over the age of 45 (and many who are at least 65).
      6. Gender. Pancreatic cancer is more common among men, although women can be diagnosed, too.

      Who Should Get Screened?

      It’s important to detect pancreatic cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages. Diagnosis typically starts with a physical examination, blood tests, and a CT scan or MRI of the abdomen. Your doctor may also recommend an endoscopic ultrasound.

      If you or a loved one is at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer or have concerning symptoms, it’s important to get tested right away. If you have questions about your pancreatic cancer risk, call us at 815-397-7340 to schedule an appointment.