fairly strong predictors for pancreatic cancer, Gaddam notes. Doctors also look for jaundice with no abdominal pain, profound, unexplained weight loss or a new diagnosis of diabetes.
“Obviously not all causes of a new diagnosis of diabetes are cancer, or not everyone that has weight loss has pancreas cancer. So, we have to be really careful about that, but we look for these subtle tell-tale signs when we talk to our patients,” Gaddam shares.
Many people with pancreatic cancer have very vague symptoms in the beginning, such as minor abdominal discomfort or indigestion, according to Dr. Sajan Nagpal, an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of Chicago.
Longstanding diabetes and chronic pancreatitis are other risk factors.
By the time the cancer is detected, 80% of patients are no longer eligible for surgery, the only way to cure the cancer, Nagpal notes. Other treatments include chemotherapy and radiation.
“The actual number of people that are successfully able to get surgery is even smaller, which is why the outcomes from pancreatic cancer remain poor,” Nagpal adds. “It would be great if we could identify patients at an earlier stage, because that would mean patients would qualify for surgery and we could improve outcomes in these patients.”
What can you do?
Doctors are calling for more research to better understand why more Blacks and women are being affected by pancreatic cancer. In the meantime, aside from lowering your risk factors, Gaddam suggests having conversations to learn about your family history. If you are worried about pancreas cancer in your family, or see a trend, you should talk to their doctor about it.