LUBBOCK, Texas — November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and doctors with University Medical Center spoke with KAMC about how important it is to be aware of this disease.
“There are many people who die with it,” said Hematology Specialist Dr. Naga Cheedella. “And the five year survival rates are usually less than 10% with the pancreatic cancer.”
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat and detect.
“We don’t have a robust screening program for pancreatic cancer,” Cheedella said. “So we diagnose them, we cannot screen them. We cannot detect them early.”
Unlike other cancers, there isn’t a standard screening process for pancreatic cancer. In addition, symptoms can often be difficult to diagnose without a biopsy.
“It’s really hard to diagnose earlier when we know somebody has pancreas cancer” said Dr. Edwin Onkendi, Assistant Professor of Surgery. “So they tend to present with vague symptoms, which can be also attributable to other organs; so things like mid-back pain or general abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss.”
By the time the cancer is diagnosed, it’s often at stage four – which makes treatment methods limited. However with more research, doctors say there could be more solutions both for treatment and for testing.
“I think that within the next probably five years that there will be simple tests that could be perhaps done on a drop of blood or two (drops) of blood,” said Dr. Sanjay Awasthi, UMC Cancer Center Director and Oncology Specialist.
Heavy smoking, long-term diabetes and obesity are also associated with pancreatic cancer. More often though, it’s hereditary.
“Smokers with abdominal pain and family members who have melanoma or have family members that have breast cancer or other cancers,” said Awasthi. “Be aware of anything like blood clots, or onset of diabetes, or getting depressed for no reason, or getting excessive weight loss, and certainly if they get jaundice, or if the abdominal pain goes towards their back.”
Doctors said pancreatic cancer incidence is on the rise here in Lubbock too. The earlier it’s caught, the better the chances of recovery are.
Sadly this cancer is unforgiving – just this year, we’ve already lost John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Alex Trebek to the disease.
If you’re concerned at all about having pancreatic cancer, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor.