PHILADELPHIA (August 1, 2016) – This month, Fox Chase Cancer Center seeks to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and risk factors for the disease. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), an individual’s average lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 65. In 2016, it is estimated that about 53,070 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 41,780 people will die from the disease.
“Pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early phases, which is a major reason why it ranks as a leading cause of cancer death,” explains Namrata Vijayvergia, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Hematology/Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Signs and symptoms often don't occur until the disease is already advanced.” When they do appear, signs and symptoms may include:
- Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
- Yellowing of skin and the whites of eyes (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Blood clots
Are You at Risk?
Researchers have identified several factors that can affect a person’s chance of getting cancer of the pancreas. While some risk is uncontrollable, other risk factors can be controlled. “Individuals should familiarize themselves with all risk factors and take measures to lower their risk when possible,” says Dr. Vijayvergia.
- Don’t use tobacco products.
Smoking is the most important avoidable risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Smokers are about two times more likely to get pancreatic cancer compared to those who have never smoked. About 20-30% of pancreatic cancers are thought to be caused by cigarette smoking. Cigar, pipe smoking and smokeless tobacco products also increase risk.
- Limit alcohol.
Heavy alcohol use has been tied to pancreatic cancer in some studies. It can lead to conditions such as chronic pancreatitis and cirrhosis, which are known to increase pancreatic cancer risk.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
Overweight and very overweight (obese) individuals are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Even having extra weight around the waistline can increase risk.
- Limit your exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace.
Heavy exposure to certain chemicals used in the dry cleaning and metal-working industries may put persons at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.
Uncontrollable risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:
A person’s risk increases with age. Nearly two-thirds of individuals with pancreatic cancer are at least 65 years old, with the average age at the time of diagnosis being 71 years old.
Men are slightly more likely than women to develop the disease.
African Americans are at a slightly higher risk than other races/ethnicities for developing pancreatic cancer.
- Family History
Certain inherited DNA changes can lead to conditions running in some families that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Although family history is a risk factor, most people who get pancreatic cancer do not have a family history of it. “I advise those with a family history of pancreatic cancer to talk with their physician to determine if they should have their genetic risk evaluated, which may lead to closer follow-up to help detect pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage,” says Dr. Vijayvergia.
For more information on pancreatic cancer and risk assessment at Fox Chase Cancer Center, please call 1-888-FOX CHASE or visit FoxChase.org/pancreatic-cancer.