Pancreatic cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, surpassing even breast cancer. More than 56,700 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. More awareness of this disease must be gained to increase knowledge, action, and survival.
- Pancreatic cancer is hard to find early.
Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer death largely because there are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible.
- Smoking, being overweight, and having diabetes are all important risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
The risk of getting pancreatic cancer is about twice as high among smokers compared to those who have never smoked. Obese people (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or more) are about 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Gaining weight as an adult can also increase risk. Most of the risk regarding pancreatic cancer is found in people with type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes is increasing in children and adolescents as obesity in these age groups also rises.
These tests are not used to screen the general public, but might be used for someone with a strong family history of pancreatic cancer or with a known genetic syndrome that increases their risk. Doctors have been able to find early, treatable pancreatic cancers in some members of high-risk families with these tests.
Ultrasound (US) tests use sound waves to create images of organs such as the pancreas. The two most commonly used types for pancreatic cancer are:
- Abdominal ultrasound: If it’s not clear what might be causing a person’s abdominal symptoms, this might be the first test done because it is easy to do and it doesn’t expose a person to radiation. But if signs and symptoms are more likely to be caused by pancreatic cancer, a CT scan is often more useful.
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): This test is more accurate than abdominal ultrasound and can be very helpful in diagnosing pancreatic cancer. This test is done with a small US probe on the tip of an endoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube that doctors use to look inside the digestive tract and to get biopsy samples of a tumor.
Special types of MRI scans can also be used in people who might have pancreatic cancer or are at high risk:
- MR cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), which can be used to look at the pancreatic and bile ducts, is described below in the section on cholangiopancreatography.
- MR angiography (MRA), which looks at blood vessels, is mentioned below in the section on angiography.
- It’s hard to diagnose pancreatic cancer in its earlier, more treatable stages.
There is currently no standard diagnostic tool or established early detection method for pancreatic cancer. If the cancer is diagnosed early, patients may be eligible for surgery, which offers the best chance for long-term control of the disease. But often the cancer is found too late when surgery is no longer an option.
- Pancreatic cancer symptoms are so subtle, people may ignore them.
The symptoms of this disease can be vague and nonspecific. These include pain (usually in the abdomen or back), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes) with or without itching, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, pancreatitis, and recent-onset diabetes.
Anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms should speak to their doctor and reference pancreatic cancer. To book a scan, visit us at Medmo.com. Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them.