St. Vincent's Dr. Erica Discusses Pancreatic Cancer

Click here or the image below to view Dr. Erica's TV segment on Q2's Montana This Morning

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What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that forms in the pancreas, the thin, pear-shaped gland behind the stomach. The pancreas plays an important role in the digestive system by producing fluids to help break down food and hormones to control blood sugar levels.

How common is pancreatic cancer?

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States for 2019 are:

  • About 56,770 people (29,940 men and 26,830 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • About 45,750 people (23,800 men and 21,950 women) will die of pancreatic cancer.
  • Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the US and about 7% of all cancer deaths and is slightly more common in men than in women.
  • Incidence rates of pancreatic cancer have been rising by almost 1.2% each year over the last 10 years.
  • Early stage pancreatic cancer usually has no symptoms and spreads quickly throughout the body, making it difficult to detect and harder to treat when it is found in its later stages.

Pancreatic cancer risk factors

  • Environment
    According to the American Cancer Society heavy exposure at work to certain pesticides, dyes, and chemicals may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Tobacco
    Tobacco use is the most consistent risk factor for pancreatic cancer. About 20% of all pancreatic cancer cases are attributable to cigarette smoking. Smokers are about two times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smokers.
  • Gender
    Men have a higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer than women. This disease is about 30% more common in men than in women.
  • Race/Ethnicity
    In comparison to other races and ethnicities, African Americans are at a slighter higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer throughout their lives.
  • Age
    Age is the most reliable and important known predictor of pancreatic cancer. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer greatly increases with age. Nearly 70% of all pancreatic cancer patients are at least 65 years old. Across all races, ethnicities, and genders, the incidence of this disease increases significantly after age 50.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Depending on the type and stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment options for people with pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Surgery
  • Ablation or Embolization Treatments
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Pain Control
  • Prevention

You may be able to reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by avoiding or changing behaviors that are known risk factors for the disease. These healthy behaviors may help prevent pancreatic cancer:

  • Don't smoke or use any tobacco products.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

Screening

  • Early stage pancreatic cancer usually has no symptoms and spreads quickly throughout the body, making it difficult to detect and harder to treat when it is found in its later stages.
  • Currently no guidelines exist for routine screening for pancreatic cancer in the general population.
  • High risk patients with familial pancreatic cancer or established genetic conditions may benefit from imaging. Studies are in progress to help determine best approach.

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