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December 2020

Questions (and Answers) About Pancreatic Cancer

You may not hear much about cancer of the pancreas. But in 2020, an estimated 57,600 Americans were diagnosed with this deadly disease. That’s why it’s important to know what puts you at risk, symptoms to look for, and steps you can take to combat it.

Q. Who is likely to develop pancreatic cancer?

A. The likelihood of this cancer increases with age. Most cases are diagnosed in people ages 65 and older. Cigarette smokers are about two times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer. It’s more common in men than women and in African Americans than individuals from other ethnic groups.

People with diabetes also have a greater risk, as do those with chronic pancreatitis—a chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Plus, having a family history of pancreatic cancer or certain types of colorectal, breast, or ovarian cancer also increases the risk.

Q. Should I be screened for pancreatic cancer?

A. Medical experts don’t currently recommend routine screening, but people who suspect they’re at risk should discuss it with their healthcare provider.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. Early pancreatic cancer is hard to detect because there often are no noticeable signs of it. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the middle or upper abdomen or back

  • Yellowed skin and eyes

  • Appetite loss

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Weight loss

Talk with your provider if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.

Q. Can I prevent pancreatic cancer?

A. You can take steps to lower your risk of developing this cancer:

  • If you smoke or use other tobacco products, quit.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Limit the amount of red, processed (such as sausage and bacon), and well-done or fried meats you eat. 

  • Include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet.

  • Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol. If you drink alcohol, have no more than 1 serving a day for women and 2 a day for men.

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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