Morning Rounds: Pancreatic cancer

NORFOLK, Va - November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness.  According to the American Cancer Society, about 43,090 people will die from the condition in 2017.

News 3 medical expert Dr. Ryan Light joined News 3 This Morning to explain the causes, signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

News 3:  What causes pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Light:  The pancreas is an organ that aids in digestion and the regulation of blood sugars.  Pancreatic cancer starts in the tissues making up the pancreas.  Because the pancreas lies below the stomach when cancer occurs, it typically spreads to surrounding organs and tissue very rapidly.

The cause of pancreatic cancer is not fully known.  However, doctors have found a link between smoking and pancreatic cancer.  Pancreatic cancer happens when cells of the pancreas mutate and divide rapidly resulting in the formation of a tumor.  The most common form of this cancer begins in the ducts and then spreads through the bloodstream to near by organs.

News 3:  What are the risk factors?

Dr. Light:  

  • chronic inflammation termed pancreatitis (often linked heavy alcohol consumption)
  • diabetes
  • family genetic link (BRAC2)
  • family history of pancreatic cancer
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • increased occurrence over the age of 65

News 3: What are some signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Light:

  • diabetes with weight loss
  • persistent fatigue
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain

Note: These symptoms can result from many medical conditions and are not specific for pancreatic cancer.

News 3: When should you see your physician and what treatments are available?

Dr. Light: If you experience any of the above symptoms contact your healthcare provider.  Pancreatic cancer often goes undetected due to its aggressive nature.  Treatment consists of a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

News 3: What steps can be taken to prevent pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Light: 

  • stop smoking
  • healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • if a family history of pancreatic cancer exists, a genetic counselor can suggest genetic testing to help determine and increased risk