HEALTHPLAN MAGAZINE

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month - Do You Know The Signs? Health Tips

November is Pancreatic Awareness Month (PCAM), so what better time to speak about what remains one of the most deadly cancers to be diagnosed with.

According to Cancer Research UK, there has been no improvement in survival rates over the last 40 years with only 1% of those with the disease living longer than 10 years post diagnosis.

Over 9,500 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK alone, making it the 11th most common form of cancer.

Unfortunately, Pancreatic cancer is all too often found too late, going unnoticed with around 60% of tumours spreading before they are first discovered.

Stats show that only around 17% of men and 26% of women aged between 15 and 49 years have a chance of surviving beyond 5 years making early diagnosis vital.

Although the five year survival rate for those living in Europe is 6% compared to those living in the UK where the figure is just 4%, there is obviously a long way to go in not only the early diagnosis, but also in the successful treatment of it.

Why Are the Survival Rates so Low?

Unfortunately the location of the Pancreas which lies in the middle of the abdomen means that the tumours are often found too late. A delay in diagnosis means that malignant cells often spread rapidly to nearby vital organs via the bloodstream and lymphatic system.

The liver, lungs and/or abdominal cavity are easily reached by the cells and due to the location of the pancreas, treatment is a lot more difficult as it can strangle vital blood vessels.

Even when it is possible to reach a tumour, it is thought that 70% of cases will still go on to be fatal due to its aggressive nature.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

Although the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be vague compared to other forms of the disease, there are some things you can look out for. As touched on previously, diagnosing pancreatic cancer early is key in terms of survival rate and long-term outlook of the patient.

The list below contains some of the most common signs of pancreatic cancer, however, early symptoms are rare and is one of the reasons the disease is diagnosed too late.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the back or abdominal region - A common symptom of pancreatic cancer.
  • Jaundice - Yellowing of the skin and eyes can be a sign of pancreatic cancer. Itchy skin is another symptom.
  • Being recently diagnosed with diabetes - As the pancreas creates insulin in the body to regulate our sugar levels, a recent diagnosis of diabetes could mean that the pancreas is infected with a tumour preventing it from producing insulin.

Other possible symptoms may include:

  • Unexpected weight loss - Losing weight for some unknown reason can be a sign that something isn’t quite right.
  • Indigestion, vomiting and nausea - This can occur as the pancreas plays a role in the digestion of food.
  • A change in bowel movement including diarrhoea or constipation.

It is important to note that having one or more of the above symptoms does NOT mean that you have pancreatic cancer.

Contact your GP without delay if any of the above symptoms persist for longer than a week or so.

What are the Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer?

Although it is not fully understood what causes pancreatic cancer, there are a number of risk factors that have been identified and are associated with possible development of the condition.

  • Aged between 50 and 80 years old - Around half of all new cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 75.
  • Being overweight - Around 1 in 10 cases are linked to being overweight
  • Smoking - It is thought that around 1 in 3 cases are attributed to the smoking of tobacco
  • A history of certain conditions such as diabetes, long-term inflammation of the pancreas (Pancreatitis), stomach ulcer or Helicobacter pylori infection. (Source NHS)
  • Alcohol - Around 70% of cases are thought to be due to long-term heavy drinking with a higher risk for those who drink more than 6 units per day compared to those who drank less than 6.
  • Red or processed meat - Some research suggests that there is a possible link between red or processed meat and pancreatic cancer.
  • Having previously undergone radiotherapy treatment
  • Previous cancers - Those who have previous had certain forms of cancer are thought to be at a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer. These include bladder or kidney cancer, stomach cancer, testicular cancer, mouth cancer and certain female cancers such as cancers - cervical, ovarian, womb or breast cancer.
  • Family history and genetic factors - Pancreatic cancer is thought to run in some families with around 5-10% of cases attributed to faulty genes. It is also thought that those who carry the faulty breast gene BRCA2 are also more at risk. There is also evidence to suggest that having a BRCA1 gene fault could increase your risk of pancreatic cancer.

Preventing Pancreatic Cancer

Unfortunately there is no sure way to prevent getting pancreatic cancer, especially as some of the risk factors cannot be controlled, such as family history, race and gender.

However, there are some things that you can do in order to reduce your chances of contracting the disease. For example, reducing your alcohol consumption, quitting smoking while keeping active and maintaining a healthy weight can all help to reduce your risk.

World Pancreatic Cancer Day is on November 21. On this day charities and individuals come together to help raise awareness about the symptoms, risk of the disease and the urgent need for early detection. For further information on how you can help, please see https://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/get-involved/pancreatic-cancer-awareness-month/

Please share this post with your friends and family in order to raise awareness.

Disclaimer: Any information on pancreatic cancer contained within this article is for your guidance only and must not be used for the basis of any self diagnosis. In all instances, you are advised to speak to your GP or healthcare professional immediately if you are concerned or suffering from any of the symptoms above.

Image courtesy of https://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/