According to the American Cancer Society, about 60,430 people (31,950 men and 28,480 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 48,220 people (25,270 men and 22,950 women) will die of the deadly disease in 2021. Willie Garson, an actor well known from his roles in Sex and the City and White Collar, is now included in this number. He passed away from pancreatic cancer on Sept. 21, 2021.
Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is difficult to find early and most people don’t display symptoms until it has advanced and spread. Therefore, the strong majority — up to 80 percent — are diagnosed at later stages when it is more difficult to treat. It remains the nation’s 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths, after lung and colon cancer.
Compared with many other cancers, the combined five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer (the percentage of all patients who are living five years after diagnosis) is just 5 to 10 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Stage IV pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 1 percent.
The chances of getting pancreatic cancer are about 1 in 64, with risk factors including:
- Tobacco use
- Long-term inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Age (65 +)
- Gender (men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women)
- Race (African Americans are at higher risk)
- Family history/genetics
What are the symptoms?
- Pain, usually in the abdomen or back
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes or both) with or without itching
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in stool
- Pancreatitis (swelling of the pancreas)
Testing for pancreatic cancer in people at high risk
The two most common tests used are an endoscopic ultrasound, a procedure that uses sound waves to take pictures of the pancreas, bile duct and digestive tract, or MRI. These tests are not used to screen the general public, but they may be helpful for a person with a family history of pancreatic cancer or with a known genetic syndrome that increases their risk.
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent pancreatic cancer. But you can help lower your risk by:
- Staying at a healthy weight
- Eating a diet rich in whole foods
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Avoiding exposure to dangerous chemicals
- Exercising regularly