What You Should Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Karl Lagerfeld
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German designer Karl Lagerfeld, most famous for his decades of work with luxury labels Chanel and Fendi, passed away at the age of 85 from pancreatic cancer. The fashion icon battled his cancer so quietly that it’s unknown exactly how long ago he was diagnosed.

Lagerfeld’s death brings renewed awareness to what is one of the most difficult diseases to treat. To learn more about pancreatic cancer, we spoke with AdventHealth board-certified surgical oncologist, J. Pablo Arnoletti, MD.

One of the Deadliest Cancers

Pancreatic cancer is the third most deadly cancer in the U.S. and is on pace to be the second deadliest by the year 2020. Currently, breast cancer holds the second place, but with mortality rates declining due to awareness and screening as well as new treatment options, pancreatic cancer is poised to surpass it. In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 250,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed every year but only 55,000 cases of pancreatic. However, the vast majority of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed as terminal as opposed to breast cancer.

Screening for Pancreatic Cancer

“Catching any cancer early on is the key to surviving it,” says Dr. Arnoletti. “But it’s very hard to diagnose pancreatic cancer which is why it is commonly found only in the late stages. There are no easy screenings for it, no swabs, blood or urine tests, or anything like that to help diagnose it early. Your best chance of catching it early is to go to a hospital that deals with a high volume of pancreatic cancer cases since they see it more often they’re better at recognizing it.”

Screening for pancreatic cancer is done through imaging with an MRI, CT scan or an endoscopic ultrasound. However, as often is the case, if it’s large enough to show on an MRI or CT scan it’s probably too late for a lot of treatment options. Dr. Arnoletti recommends getting an endoscopic ultrasound at a hospital that deals with a high volume of pancreatic cancer cases, as it can detect smaller masses and the staff are better prepared to identify it.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

“Another reason pancreatic cancer is so hard to diagnose is that it has non-specific symptoms,” explains Dr. Arnoletti. “It may be intense stomach pain in one patient but not the next, or it could be something else entirely and it’s very difficult to know for certain and what to look for.”

However, there are some warning signs that you may be susceptible to the disease. Heredity and family history play a large role in determining your chances for getting this particular cancer. If you’ve suffered from chronic pancreatitis you may be at a higher risk, as well. Certain environmental factors, such as tobacco use and exposure to other forms of carcinogens, can also play a role in determining risk.

Looking to the Future

While the current projections may be discouraging, Dr. Arnoletti says that through greater awareness, more frequent and earlier screenings, and research we can start to reduce the number of people that die from this terrible disease every year — and start increasing survivors. And while most people diagnosed with it are terminal, Dr. Arnoletti says, “We believe there’s always something that can be done. At least we can extend and improve quality of life and give you the peace of mind that you’re in the best possible care with a team of people that are doing everything that they can to help you through it.”

If you would like to learn more about pancreatic cancer screenings or to speak with a specialist about any concerns you may have, please visit our website or call Call407-303-1700 to speak with an expert.

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