Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer rarely shows symptoms until it is very advanced or has spread to other parts of the body. While the disease presents itself differently in every patient, there are several common risk factors for pancreatic cancer to look for:
- Tobacco use
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
- Inherited genetic syndromes
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes)
- Dark-colored urine
- New diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that's becoming more difficult to control
The pancreas is positioned deep within the body and is next to other critical organs like the liver and bowel. This can make surgery and recovery difficult for patients. In addition to surgery, other available treatments include radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Gang Chen, MD, PhD, medical oncologist and hematologist at the Berman Cancer Institute, described how the team develops a treatment plan that is tailored to each patient. “We look at each person’s tolerance to different kinds of treatment and the extent of their disease. Some patients are not good candidates for surgery, but advances in chemoradiation have allowed us to deliver the treatment that is less difficult on the body.” The same cancer may be managed differently in different patients based on what is best for the individual as a whole.
While there is still much to learn about screening and treatment, recent progress in next generation sequencing giving doctors hope that there will come a time when a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is not so devastating. To learn more about resources available to cancer patients and their families at The Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute, visit www.gbmc.org/cancer.