November Is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
November 02, 2017
By Mary Kay Holloway, RDN, CSO, LDN at the Community Cancer Center
Every day that I work, I am surrounded by people who are living with or treating some kind of cancer. As a board-certified oncology dietitian, my hope is to help them get the best nutrition possible as they try to manage the side effects of treatment or the disease itself.
Lately, one cancer that I seem to be working with often, whether at work or at home with a friend or family member, is pancreatic cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It takes 91 percent of its victims within five years, and it is projected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related death around the year 2020.
Simply defined, the pancreas is a fish-shaped organ that lies behind the stomach. It is made up of glands that produce enzymes, which break down food in the intestines, and cells that make hormones, like insulin, to help balance sugar in the blood. Pancreatic cancer starts when cells form tumors. According to pancreaticcancer.org, the exact causes of pancreatic cancer are not known, but it is thought that age, smoking, obesity, and a family history of pancreatic cancer or other rare genetic conditions may increase your risk. Pancreatic cancer affects men and women equally.
Early symptoms can be vague, and most people do not even know they have it until the cancer is advanced. Possible signs and symptoms can include yellowing of the skin and eye (jaundice); abdominal pain and bloating; unintended weight loss; nausea/vomiting; loss of appetite; indigestion; itchy skin, which can be very intense; unexpected onset of diabetes; and changes in stool and urine color. Many of these symptoms could be related to other diagnosis so it is important to see your doctor for a medical evaluation.
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. Surgery can offer a chance for cure or an increased long-term survival. When diagnosed in an advanced stage, chemotherapy is used to slow the progression of the disease. Clinical trials have identified some promising results with targeted therapies that directly target genetic changes and pathways or immunotherapy, which uses drugs to boost your own immune system’s ability to fight the cancer. A medical oncologist would be the doctor to help you find which treatment or clinical trial would be right for you.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month. A purple ribbon is the awareness symbol, but more needs to be done. Spread the word and support the organizations that raise money for the research. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is one organization dedicated to support not only those with pancreatic cancer but also supports the research to find a cure. Their goal is to improve patient outcomes and double survival by 2020. Other organizations dedicated to pancreatic cancer include The National Pancreatic Cancer foundation, The Pancreatic Cancer Alliance, and National Pancreas Foundation.
The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of supportive and educational groups and programs, free of charge, to help patients and families cope with cancer and its effects. For more information go to their website at www.cancercenter.org.
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