How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed? What are the signs and symptoms?

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Courtesy of DHR Health

By: Dr. Jose Cruz
DHR Health Oncology Institute

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer and accounts for 3% of all cancers in the United States. It is deadly because it is often difficult to diagnose and grows quickly. There is currently no screening test to diagnose it in its early stages. Curable pancreatic cancer is usually found by accident, on abdominal images that are often ordered for other reasons. Once detected, patients will then have other special imaging and biopsies to ensure that surgery can be performed safely.

Sadly, about 70% of pancreatic cancers are not curable. Patients with incurable pancreatic cancer experience symptoms such as weight loss, abdominal pain and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and other organs. These cases are considered incurable because the cancer at this stage has grown into the small intestine, major arteries/veins or blocks the flow of digestive enzymes from the liver and gallbladder.

To lower the risk of getting pancreatic cancer we encourage patients to discuss and work on changing their health habits with their primary care physician. For example, uncontrolled diabetics are twice as likely to get pancreatic cancer. Weight loss, healthy eating, quitting smoking and alcohol use are all things one can do to lower their chances of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is also very important that you discuss any family history of cancer with your physician, as sometimes cancer can be passed in families. Small changes make a huge difference, and talking to your primary care physician can be part of that difference.

At DHR Health Oncology Institute we have a group of dedicated specialists that can help you or a loved when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We are fortunate to have the only liver and pancreatic surgeons south of San Antonio, who specialize in performing the Whipple procedure. This is a complex surgery where part of the pancreas, small intestine, bile duct and gall bladder are removed. Our medical oncology team is trained to provide the most advanced treatments available, in addition to genetic screening. As members of the Southwest Oncology Group, we will provide patients access to available clinical research trials. At DHR Health Oncology Institute, a group of specialists made up of an oncologist, liver/pancreatic surgeon, radiation oncologist and other physicians will meet and propose a comprehensive personalized plan that is unique to your needs.

DHR Health Oncology Institute can help guide you through the care of pancreatic cancer including risk reduction, genetic screening, diagnosis, enrollment in clinical trials and treatment. If you or a loved one would like more information about pancreatic cancer and the treatment options available, please call (956) 362-2250.