Early Detection Can Mean Survival For Some With Pancreatic Cancer

November Is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month


Story Updated: Nov 6, 2010

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) -- Over the last 40 years, pancreatic cancer has not shown substantial improvements in survival rates, like many other cancers. That is just one reason why November is dedicated to informing the public about a cancer that is not as widely funded as others.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and this morning's Pancakes for Pancreatic Cancer breakfast at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 857 is just one of many events taking place in the Summit City to educate the community on the disease.

The lifetime risk of having pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 72 and is about the same for both men and women. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2010, about 43,140 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be reported in the U.S. The estimate of deaths caused by pancreatic cancer in 2010 are about 36, 800.

Recent studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute discovered pancreatic cancer grows very slowly. Early detection could prevent the disease from spreading, but is extremely hard to find in its early stages. Current screening methods for pancreatic cancer often do not locate tumors that can take decades to grow. Research suggests lives could be saved by screening for cancer of the pancreas using the same types of methods used for breast and colon cancer screenings.

While researchers still do not know exactly what causes most cases of pancreatic cancer, these risk factors provided by the American Cancer Society have been linked to the disease.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer

Age: The risk of this cancer goes up with age. Almost 90% of patients are older than 55. The average age at the time the cancer is found is 72.

Gender: Men have this cancer slightly more often than women.

Race: African Americans are more likely to have this cancer than are whites.

Smoking: The risk of getting cancer of the pancreas is 2 to 3 times higher in smokers. About 2 to 3 out of 10 cases of pancreatic cancer are thought to be caused by smoking. People who use smokeless (spit or chew) tobacco are also more likely to get pancreatic cancer.

Obesity and lack of exercise: Very overweight people are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, as are those who don't get much exercise.

Diabetes: Pancreatic cancer is more common in people with this disease. Most of the risk is found in people with type 2 diabetes. The reason for this is not known. In some patients, the cancer seems to have caused the diabetes (not the other way around).

Chronic pancreatitis: This is a long-term inflammation of the pancreas. It is linked with a slightly higher risk of pancreatic cancer, but most people with this condition do not get pancreatic cancer.

Cirrhosis of the liver: Cirrhosis is a scarring of the liver. It happens in people with liver damage from things like hepatitis and alcohol use. People with cirrhosis seem to have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Work exposure: Heavy exposure at work to certain pesticides, dyes, and chemicals may increase the risk of getting cancer of the pancreas.

Family history: Cancer of the pancreas seems to run in some families.

Gene changes: Inherited gene changes (mutations) are abnormal copies of certain genes that can be passed from parent to child. These changed genes may cause pancreatic cancers and can cause other problems, too. Some of the genes that cause these problems have been found by scientists and can be recognized by genetic testing.

Stomach problems: Having too much stomach acid or having bacteria called H. pylori in the stomach may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

The month of October highlighted national breast cancer awareness efforts, a disease that has taken strides with increased funding and awareness. While that month showcased the color pink to signal support, this month pancreatic cancer efforts are signaled by the color purple.

The Pancakes for Pancreatic Cancer breakfast continues today until 11 a.m. at the VFW Post 857 at 2202 West Main Street here in Fort Wayne. In addition to the breakfast, there is a raffle, silent auction, bake sale and door prizes.

To show your support during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, check Indiana's NewsCenter's Community Calendar for events near you.

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