According to the American Cancer Society, about 58,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020, and another 47,000 people will die of the disease. Pancreatic cancer has also been in the news recently with the death of longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek. Trebek died on Nov. 15 after announcing in March of 2019 that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
While Trebek’s death and the deaths of anyone else who suffered from pancreatic cancer are tragic, there is a way the rest of us can honor their lives and memories. As it happens, Trebek died in November, which is recognized as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. We can take this opportunity to make more people aware of the dangers of pancreatic cancer, as well as encourage others to devote resources to finding a cure for this devastating disease. Keep reading to learn more.
Pancreatic Cancer Basics
Here are a few statistics about pancreatic cancer in the United States:
Pancreatic cancer accounts for 3 percent of all cancer cases in the U.S. and about 7 percent of all cancer deaths
The average lifetime risk of someone in the U.S. contracting pancreatic cancer is 1 in 64, but there are certain risk factors that make it more likely. These risk factors include smoking, being overweight, being diabetic, long-term pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace, family history, and other conditions.
Pancreatic cancer is very difficult to treat, which gives it a low survival rate compared with many other types of cancer. The 5-year survival rate for those with a localized pancreatic cancer diagnosis is 37 percent, while the rate for those with a regional pancreatic cancer diagnosis drops to 12 percent. The overall 5-year survival rate for patients with any pancreatic cancer diagnosis is only 9 percent.
In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the ninth most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in women and the 10th most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in men.
Pancreatic Cancer Warning Signs
As with any cancer, early detection and treatment is crucial for pancreatic cancer patients. The sooner they’re diagnosed, the more treatment options are available and the more effective these treatments are. Accordingly, it’s important to keep an eye out for pancreatic cancer warning signs and symptoms. These include:
Pain in the abdomen or lower back
Unexplained weight loss
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, or both), either with or without itching
Changes in your stool or bowel movements
If you experience these symptoms, especially multiple symptoms at once, see your doctor right away. This is especially true if you have a history of pancreatic cancer or other types of cancer in your family.
Why Pancreatic Cancer is Difficult to Diagnose and Treat
Unlike breast cancer and other types of cancer where the tumors are closer to the surface of the body, pancreatic cancer can’t be detected during a standard physical exam by a doctor. What’s more, most people don’t show symptoms of pancreatic cancer until the tumors have become very large in the late stages of the disease. If you or your doctor suspect you may have pancreatic cancer, the final diagnosis will need to be made with an MRI, CT scan, or endoscopic ultrasound.
Even when someone has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, though, it’s very challenging to treat. Surgery to remove the malignant cells is the best treatment option, but it can only be done if the disease is detected early.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and other treatments can have some effect. Increased awareness of pancreatic cancer and more support for new treatment methods may lead to new medical breakthroughs that could increase the odds of survival for patients.
How You Can Help Support Pancreatic Cancer Awareness and Research
One of the best ways to help those with pancreatic cancer is to spread awareness of the disease and help fund new research for treatment methods. Here are a few ways you can help:
Donate to pancreatic cancer support foundations and research organizations. Groups like the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation (NPCF), the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN), the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, ThriveWell Cancer Foundation, and others are doing heroic work to help patients live longer, healthier lives. Every little bit you can give helps, no matter how small your donation may seem.
Spread awareness of pancreatic cancer. Purple is the official color of pancreatic cancer groups, so you can wear purple clothing, paint your nails purple, dye your hair purple, or take other measures in your daily life. You never know how one conversation could change or save someone’s life if it turns out they or a loved one is at risk for pancreatic cancer.
Support pancreatic cancer awareness and research on social media. You can follow the social media feeds of the organizations we listed above or share your own posts with friends and family. Some of the common hashtags for pancreatic cancer support include #pancreaticcancer, #WPCD (for World Pancreatic Cancer Day on Nov. 19), and #purpleforapurpose.
Join an awareness event. Different events are held throughout the country to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research. You can find a list of local events in your area here.
Host your own event. Given the social distancing restrictions in many parts of the country due to COVID-19, taking part in a massive public event may not be feasible. You can still host your own virtual event, though, to encourage others in supporting pancreatic cancer awareness and research.
Volunteer with a pancreatic cancer group. NPCF, PANCAN, the Hirshberg Foundation, and other organizations need all the help they can get. If you can’t donate money to these groups, they would certainly benefit from the donation of your time and talents.
Join the START Center for Cancer Care in Fighting Pancreatic Cancer
The START Center is a state-of-the-art health care facility in San Antonio offering the latest, personalized treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients. Our compassionate and dedicated staff will work tirelessly to get you the care you need as you battle this disease. Learn more by calling (210) 593-5700 or visiting our contact page.