Pancreatic cancer … know the symptoms and act quickly
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and the statistics are grim. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., and is expected to be the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2030. This year, it is estimated that more than 46,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and more than 90 percent will die, primarily because most cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage after the cancer has spread.
The UF Health Gastrointestinal Cancer Program team specializes in treating pancreatic and other gastrointestinal cancers. While there are no widely available screening tests to detect pancreatic cancer early, they emphasize that there are signs and symptoms that could lead to early detection IF you are paying attention.
“Surgical removal of pancreatic cancer is the only known treatment which can provide a cure, yet a study published in the Annals of Surgery found that nearly 40 percent of patients with operable pancreatic cancer weren’t offered surgery by their doctors,” said Thomas George Jr., M.D., UF Health Gastrointestinal Cancer Program director, and a UF College of Medicine associate professor in the division of hematology and oncology. “This was attributed to a ‘nihilistic attitude’ and ingrained belief many physicians and patients hold that pancreatic cancer is an automatically terminal diagnosis. That is simply not the case for a significant number of our patients.”
George said not to ignore what your body is telling you. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. There may be other explanations, but better safe than sorry. If you or someone you care about receives a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, get a second opinion here at UF Health, which offers rapid access to the latest drug treatments through clinical trials and expert surgeons who specialize in pancreatic cancer, offering highly specialized procedures such as the laparoscopic Whipple.
For more information visit UFHealth.org/pancreatic-cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
- Many people with pancreatic cancer experience changes in taste — including feeling disgusted by previously favored foods and beverages — as early as two or three years before diagnosis.
- Another symptom is yellowed skin and sclera, or the whites of the eye. A backup of bilirubin, a digestive juice produced in the liver, is called jaundice and is caused by the pancreatic tumor blocking the bile duct.
- Unbearable skin itchiness, including on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, is a little known but common symptom of pancreatic cancer.
- Sluggishness and loss of energy is a symptom of pancreatic cancer that many people ignore, perhaps attributing it to getting older or stress at work. Don’t just cope with feeling very tired, especially if you have other symptoms — see your doctor.
- The sudden onset of diabetes (or instability of blood sugar without another cause in a known diabetic) can be an indication that the pancreas is in trouble. Insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, is produced in the pancreas and a growing tumor will disrupt insulin production.
- Dark, Coca-Cola colored urine and smelly, light-colored, floating stools are a side effect of jaundice and could be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.
- Sudden weight loss is another symptom. Let’s face it, we’d probably all love to lose a few pounds, but if you’re experiencing unexplained and sudden weight loss you may have pancreatic cancer. Don’t ignore it.