November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Prisma Health wants the community to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this condition because early diagnosis is key to successful treatment. In South Carolina alone, approximately 1,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Nearly 800 of those patients typically have advanced disease and face low odds of survival.

Early signs of pancreatic cancer are vague and non-specific making early diagnosis difficult. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:

• Abdominal pain

• Back pain

• Unexplained weight loss

• Nausea

• Fatigue

• Yellowing of the skin and eyes

• Loss of appetite

• A new diagnosis of diabetes after age 60

“Unfortunately, because of these vague symptoms, pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages, when the cancer has spread to other organs. If you experience these persistent symptoms it is important to talk with your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist,” said Dr. Veeral Oza, a gastroenterology specialist with Prisma Health.

Oza added, “Anyone diagnosed with diabetes after age 60 should meet with their doctor to consider an evaluation of the pancreas. The onset of diabetes in older patients can be an early sign of pancreatic cancer.”

The pancreas is an organ that measures about six to seven inches long and sits behind the stomach. It is involved in the secretion of hormones and enzymes that help to regulate your metabolism and blood sugar level.

Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur after the age of 60 and rarely before the age of 40. The largest risk factors for pancreatic cancer are smoking and history of chronic pancreatitis, cysts or inflammation in the pancreas.

While tests for pancreatic cancer are not routinely recommended for most patients, those with a family history of the disease need to be screened. In 5–10% of pancreatic cancers there is an inherited genetic component. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), MRI and CT scans are the primary ways the pancreas is assessed.

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