Monday, November 19, 2012

Pancreatic Cancer: Silent and Deadly

Some kinds of cancer are in the news often and inspire walks and 5k races and vigils. Others, like Pancreatic Cancer, are less well-known. But that doesn't mean that the "silent" cancers are not worth learning more about. In fact, it may be just the opposite.

Pancreatic cancer is often referred to as a silent cancer because it does not typically show many symptoms in early stages. Because there is no screening method for early detection, and because diagnosis is usually made when the cancer is in later stages, the mortality rate is higher than some other cancers. Out of an estimated 43,920 new cases expected to occur in 2012, 37,390 deaths will occur. That's an 85% mortality rate.

Compare that to lung cancer which has a mortality rate of approximately 71%, and breast cancer with a rate of approximately 17%. Those cancers are deadly to larger numbers of people - but more people diagnosed with them are treated successfully and become survivors. For pancreatic cancer victims, the prognosis is not as hopeful.

The good news is that there are survivors, and there are preventative measures that you can implement to create a lifestyle that is less likely to lead to pancreatic cancer.

Stop smoking. We say this a lot, but it's for good reason. Smoking is linked to more cancers than any other environmental or personal habit risk factor. Incidence rates of pancreatic cancer is about twice as high for cigarette smokers as it is for nonsmokers.

Maintain a healthy weight. Diabetes and obesity have been linked to pancreatic cancer, as well as a number of other cancers. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and engage in a moderate amount of exercise each week to help lower your risk for cancer.

Know the symptoms. Even though they don't typically show up in early stages, it's always a good idea to know what to look for - especially if you do have some of the risk factors which include a family history of the disease. Here is a list from the Pancreatic Action Network:

Weight loss
Digestive difficulties
Changes in stools
Blood clots

Know your risk and educate yourself on how to reduce it. And if you or someone you love need support in the Northwest Arkansas region, we are here to help. Contact our social workers at 479-361-5847 Monday - Friday with questions or concerns.

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