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Understanding Pancreatic Cancer


With the passing of Patrick Swayze, many Americans are trying to understand pancreatic cancer, which is also known as the silent killer. This aggressive disease, with very few survivors, spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it's a leading cause of cancer death.

Thus far for 2009 in the U.S. approximately 42,470 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 35,240 have died. Though the cause is unknown, and it strikes men more than women, almost 1/3 of the cases involve cigarette smoking. Other causes can be attributed to obesity, long-term diabetes, and chronic pancreatitis. Also, family history plays a vital role making understanding pancreatic cancer important.

Pancreatic cancer can be very difficult to catch early as it doesn't cause symptoms right away. When people do experience symptoms, they are often vague and might be unnoticeable. These symptoms can include yellowing of the skin and eyes, pain in the abdomen and back, weight loss, and fatigue. In understanding pancreatic cancer keep in mind that the pancreas is hidden behind other organs; thus, health-care providers cannot see or feel the tumors during routine exams. This is another reason it is often found late and it spreads quickly.

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The pancreas is a 6-inch-long, pear-shaped organ wedged deep in the abdomen sandwiched between the stomach and the spine. It secretes digestive enzymes and insulin as well as hormones. Cancer develops when defective pancreatic cells generate and multiply, crowding out healthy cells. The cancer spreads easily out of the pancreas because the main function of the pancreas is to produce enzymes and hormones that are pushed out into the bloodstream and digestive system. These cancer cells have easy access to the rest of the body.

By understanding pancreatic cancer, there are ways people can reduce their risks. The most important one is if you are a smoker, quit. Smoking has as been linked to the development of a majority of cancers, including pancreatic cancer. In addition, people should consider reducing or eliminating red meat, as well as processed and carbonized meat. These have been linked to pancreatic cancer. It is suggested replacing red meat with fish and poultry.

A study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found that eating five or more servings per day of yams, corn, carrots, onions, and similar vegetables is associated with a lower risk of the disease. Eating spinach, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, as well as broccoli and cauliflower, can also lower the risk

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive and fast-spreading cancer with low mortality rate, however understanding pancreatic cancer and the risks can be a move in the right direction to help prevent this disease.

Mayo Clinic
American Cancer Association