Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
Pancreatic cancer is a rare but aggressive type of cancer that develops in the pancreas. The pancreas is like a multitasking wizard, located just behind your stomach, and plays a vital role in digestion.
So, what does it do? It is responsible for producing enzymes that help break down food in your stomach to help your body to absorb nutrients. Also, it produces the hormone insulin, which is vital for regulating your blood sugar levels.
But here is the twist: this wonderful organ can sometimes face a villain called pancreatic cancer. Picture this: Sometimes, the cells in the pancreas start to grow uncontrollably, forming a lump known as a tumor/cancer. These tumor cells can spread to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis in pancreatic cancer, making it more dangerous.
Hence, understanding the risk factors and symptoms of pancreatic cancer is crucial. So, buckle up, and let's explore this pancreatic world together!
Significance Of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
November is celebrated as pancreatic cancer awareness month, with purple lights everywhere to raise awareness. In addition, the third Thursday of November is observed as World Pancreatic Cancer Day every year. But why is it essential to know about pancreatic cancer? Even though the pancreas isn't a very common site for cancer, the impact it can have is substantial, especially in a country like India, where incidence rates are on the rise.
Lifestyle changes in Indian populations are the reasons for the increase in rate. Right now, pancreatic cancer is the 12th most common cancer and the 7th leading cause of cancer-related deaths globally. In India, it is the 24th most common cancer. Still, the numbers are predicted to increase due to the rise in risk factors in the Indian population. Being aware of this helps you stay prepared and informed about potential health risks in the future.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Pancreatic Cancer?
Let's break down the risk factors for pancreatic cancer:
- Age factor: Pancreatic cancer risk increases as you get older.
- Gender difference: Men are more commonly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than women.
- Smoking: Compared to non-smokers, smokers have a two to three times higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Currently, cigarette smokers have an 80% increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared to people who never smoked.
- Obesity, diet, and alcohol: High-fat diets, obesity, and chronic alcohol use can raise the risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Diabetes: Long-term diabetes and new-onset diabetes in adulthood can be associated with higher risk.
- Family history: If two or more first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) have had pancreatic cancer, there is an increased risk of you developing it. Certain genetic mutations also increase the risk factor.
- Genetics: Inherited conditions like hereditary pancreatitis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, and others can increase pancreatic cancer risk.
- Chronic pancreatitis: It is caused by inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic cases of pancreatitis might elevate the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
- Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides and petrochemicals, may increase the risk.
- Bacterial infections: Infections like H. pylori (causing stomach ulcers) and hepatitis B might be linked to pancreatic cancer. However, further research is needed to find its relationship.
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis, often caused by excessive alcohol consumption, can also enhance the risk factor of developing pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer Statistics: Understanding the Numbers
In 2023, there are approximately 64,050 new cases of pancreatic cancer, accounting for 3.3% of all new cancer cases. Sadly, it is estimated that there will be 50,550 deaths from pancreatic cancer by the end of 2023, making up 8.3% of all cancer-related deaths. The 5-year relative survival rate from 2013-2019 stands at 12.5%.
What Are The Symptoms Of Pancreatic Cancer?
1. Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
2. Mild upper abdomen pain radiating to the back
4. Digestive problems
5. Changes in stool color
6. General weakness
7. Appetite changes
8. Nausea and vomiting
9. Chills, sweats, and fever
Learn about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer in detail here!
Can we catch pancreatic cancer early?
Detecting pancreatic cancer early is quite challenging. The pancreas hides deep inside, making it hard to spot tumors in routine checkups. Symptoms often appear late, indicating advanced stages.
Unlike some cancers, there are no standard screening tests for low-risk individuals. However, if there is a family history or specific genetic syndromes, genetic testing can assess the risk. While it does not guarantee pancreatic cancer, it helps identify high-risk cases. High-risk families can explore new screening methods like endoscopic ultrasound and MRI for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Stay informed and discuss these options with your physician to lead a better quality of life.
Treating Pancreatic Cancer
1. Surgery (removal of cancer): Depending on where the cancer is, doctors might undergo surgery to remove it. Sometimes, they remove parts of the pancreas, stomach, or other organs to get rid of the cancer.
2. Radiation Therapy (using X-rays to treat cancer): Special X-rays shrink the cancer or relieve pain. It is like passing a light to make the cancer cells smaller.
3. Chemotherapy (using special medicines): These medicines stop the cancer cells from growing. You can take them as pills or get them through a needle. They go into your body and fight the tumor cells. Some of the FDA-approved chemotherapy medications for pancreatic cancer are gemcitabine, fluorouracil, and oxaliplatin.
4. Chemoradiation Therapy (combining medicines and radiation): Doctors use both special medicines and radiation together, mostly in an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer. It is like using a double attack to beat the cancer.
5. Targeted Therapy (targeting specific cells): Special medicines are used to attack and target only the cancer cells, known as targeted medicines. These medicines stop the signals that make the cancer grow and progress.
6. Nutritional Support: After surgery, you might need nutritional support to digest food. Doctors can give you supplements to help your body get the necessary nutrients.
Pancreatic Cancer Dietary: Concerns & Tips
Digestive challenges: As you have learned, the pancreas plays a vital role in digestion; if it does not produce enough enzymes, you might face difficulties in digesting fats, leading to issues like diarrhea, cramping, bloating, and gas. Unintended weight loss can also occur due to reduced appetite caused by cancerous tumors.
What to eat? Opt for nutrient-rich, easily digestible foods. Lean proteins like eggs, tofu (coagulated soy milk), and fish are excellent choices. High-fiber starches such as potatoes and legumes are good for energy. Healthy fatty acids from sources like olive oil and avocados are essential. Fruits, vegetables, and cooked veggies should be added to the diet as they are rich in antioxidants, which have a preventive effect against cancer, but avoid filling up on them alone as they are low in calories.
Vitamin D, found in fatty fish, can be supplemented to support your health. Pancreatic supplements also aid digestion and can be taken following your doctor's advice. Additionally, consider nutritional supplements like shakes and protein powders to maintain weight.
What to avoid? Stay away from red and processed meats, greasy foods, alcohol, and sugary treats. These can worsen symptoms and may increase the risk of cancer recurrence.
Check with your doctor for a tailored diet based on your health condition.
Turn your purple light on this November! Let's pledge to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer during this pancreatic cancer awareness month 2023. Together, we can bring change and support those affected by pancreatic cancer. Join the global movement, spread the word, and make a difference!
"Purple hearts, be strong and bright,
Cancer is just a word; it can't define your inner light!"