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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cancer in both men and women and it is the fourth most leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.  But survival rates are not improving like they have for most types of cancer.

Approximately 43,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas this year.  Because most symptoms for pancreatic cancer are nonspecific, it usually is not diagnosed until the disease has advanced to a late stage, says Dr. Joan Esplin, associate professor of hematology and oncology at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.   She describes some symptoms.

SOUND BITE:   “People present with pancreatic cancer often with very vague symptoms because it is tucked deep into the abdomen and often very late in the disease process.  They may have pain in the area which they might think is just an upset stomach or indigestion, mild nausea or vomiting, weight loss, or jaundice.”

Dr. Esplin, who also is a member of the Simons Cancer Institute at SIU, says there is no screening test to help with early detection of pancreatic cancer.  She describes some risk factors for the disease.

SOUND BITE:  “We think maybe 30 percent of pancreatic cancers may be related to tobacco smoke.  There are other weaker associated risk factors -- maybe high-fat intake and high meat intake.  A small percent of pancreatic cancers, maybe between 5 and 10 percent, are hereditary family syndromes.”

Dr. Esplin says the primary treatment is chemotherapy and depending on where the cancer is located, surgery may be needed.   She advises people with vague abdominal symptoms to be checked by their primary care physician.  She also recommends that people stop smoking because it is a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer as well as other types of cancer.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.