The difficulty in detecting pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic Cancer is rarely detected in the early stages. That is what makes it so deadly.
Alex Trebek died Sunday, just one year after he announced his diagnosis with stage four pancreatic cancer. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after her cancer came back. U.S. Representative John Lewis also died from pancreatic cancer last summer just 8 months after announcing his diagnosis.
Fred Csaky lived with a sharp pain in his stomach for years. But in 2014, his condition got worse. After multiple scans, two trips to the emergency room and even gallbladder surgery, he found out he had pancreatic cancer.
“Everybody in the room was kind of in shock,” Csaky said. Even more scans confirmed the worst.
“Because it was a mass on my pancreas, they assumed the worst-case scenario,” said Csaky.
Doctors told him that even when the cancer hasn’t spread outside of the pancreas the five-year survival rate is just 37%.
Most patients aren’t that fortunate. Because the symptoms can be vague, there are no early detection tests. Even scans may not be enough.
“The pancreas hides deep in the abdomen behind the stomach, which makes it difficult even from an imaging perspective unless you’re specifically looking for that,” Fred reminded us.
So that means by the time you do get a diagnosis, it could be too late. Maureen Shul is involved in ‘WINGS OF HOPE’ for Pancreatic Cancer. “Unfortunately, by the time somebody is diagnosed they’re, many times, already in late-stage or the cancer has spread to other organs, making treatments sometimes ineffective and surgery no longer an option,” Shul said.
Maureen lost her mother and brother to the disease. So, she started ‘WINGS FOR HOPE’ to raise money to fund pancreatic cancer research.
She says, to save lives we must begin investing in research right now. “Pancreatic cancer research right now is where breast cancer research was 40 years ago,” said Shul.
But until we further the research, patients have to advocate for themselves. “Ask more questions, get second opinions. Look for those symptoms [and] don’t ignore them as I did,” said Csaky.
Shul says pancreatic cancer is often misdiagnosed as a hernia or a stomach ulcer.
The warnings signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer are:
- unexplained weight-loss
- early-onset diabetes
- pain in the stomach that radiates to the back