While pancreatic cancer is one of the rarest types of cancer in the United States it has one of the highest cancer death rates. The causes are unclear, but risk factors include:
- Older age
- A family history (genetics) of pancreatic cancer
Currently, cancer in the pancreas can be difficult for most people to detect because you rarely feel a lump and the symptoms are often mistaken for one of many other health conditions. This is due largely to the lack of well-defined tests for doctors to detect pancreatic cancer in its earlier stages.
Changing How Early Pancreatic Cancer is Diagnosed
In July 2017, a study published in Science Translational Medicine found a new blood test may be able to detect pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages. Previous research aimed at trying to develop an early detection method have gone unsuccessful; however, now researchers have identified biomarkers that they believed to be key to early detection of pancreatic cancer.
The authors of the study emphasize that further research is needed to improve the test's performance. Although several years may be needed to perfect the assessment, the discovery gives hope that a pancreatic cancer specialist could someday use it to diagnose people who are at high risk of developing the disease.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
Since there isn’t a great way to detect pancreatic cancer early, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of the disease. Most people have no signs of pancreatic cancer until the cancer spreads to other parts of the body; however, there are other symptoms that may be present before it spreads but they’re often signs of other health conditions. If you notice the following in combination or for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.
- New-onset diabetes
- Change in stools
- Blood clots
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
Additional signs are upper abdominal pain that radiates to the back, as well as a yellow appearance of the skin and whites of the eyes.
If your doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, he or she will likely run some additional tests and/or may recommend you see a pancreatic cancer specialist.
Getting Tested for Pancreatic Cancer Now
If your doctor suspects a problem, they may schedule you for one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
- Imaging scans of your internal organs can reveal the presence of a tumor.
- An endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) which makes pictures of your pancreas from inside your abdomen.
- A biopsy
- A blood test is available that measures specific proteins released by pancreatic cancer cells; however, at this point the test isn't reliable. Nonetheless, your doctor may order the test before, during and after treatment.
After reviewing the result, your doctor will recommend a cancer specialists who will recommend a cancer treatment regimen for you. If you suspect that you need to see a doctor regarding pancreatic cancer, and you’re in Washington, D.C. or in the Maryland cities of Bethesda, Brandywine, Clinton, Columbia, Frederick, Lanham, Laurel, Mt. Airy, Rockville, Silver Springs or Wheaton, please visit Maryland Oncology and make an appointment.