Dr. Mona Khanna defines the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women, and describes why this form of cancer is so deadly.
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Mona Khanna: Pancreatic cancer is the cancer of the pancreas, that's one of the organs that helps us digest and absorb our foods. And the pancreas is located kind of in the mid-abdominal area. Some of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer are abdominal pain, which often radiates to the back and is relieved by leaning forward. We have patients that often loss their appetite, loss weight very quickly and very suddenly and unfortunately pancreatic cancer is the kind of cancer, that is not found until very late. So patients have a very poor prognosis. Why is pancreatic cancer so deadly? Mona Khanna: Pancreatic cancer is actually the fourth cancer killer in both men and women. One of the reasons it's so deadly -- actually the main reason it's so deadly is because it's diagnosed usually at a very late stage. Just because it's able to spread without the patient exhibiting any signs or symptoms and spread very quickly and very extensively. By the time a patient has signs or symptoms which are usually weight loss, loss of appetite, patient can't have abdominal pain that radiates to the back. Patient can also have jaundice which is a condition where their skin appears yellowish, even the whites of the eyes can appear yellowish. Now when that happens, you know that the pancreatic cancer is fairly advanced, because those are all signs of advanced obstruction. In other words, the tumor has infiltrated some of the ducts, where some of our natural substances have to travel through and because of that obstruction, the bilirubin leaks out and creates that yellowish color. What are the chances of early detection? Mona Khanna: There's really nothing patients can do to detect pancreatic cancer early unfortunately, and that's why it is so deadly. We normally don't do any screening test for pancreatic cancer, because it is fairly rare effecting about, 33000 patients in the United States every year. So what we have to do unfortunately is wait for those late stage symptoms. Often times, it's too late. The only inkling that we might have that a patient is at risk for pancreatic cancer really is the family history of certain medical conditions that increase your risk of pancreatic cancer and in those situations, it may be prudent to screen for it. But other than that, there is no way of determining that someone has pancreatic cancer, usually until very late stage. What are the risk factors? Mona Khanna: The risk factors for pancreatic cancer actually, fall into two categories. Modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors. The modifiable risk factors those you can do something about are smoking, high intake of red meat and obesity. And if you are able to control those then, you decrease your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The non-modifiable risk factors are male gender increasing age, African-American race. And unfortunately, we can't do anything about that plus family history, which again, we can't do anything about. Those are the non-modifiable risk factors that increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. There is another one, that's an interesting risk factor and that is occupational exposure. If you happen to work in an area where you are exposed to certain chemicals related to gasoline or some other substances then, you do increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, and one of those substances is pesticides. How is pancreatic cancer treated? Mona Khannna: The treatment for pancreatic cancer unfortunately, is not good and that's why we have such a large mortality rate when we're talking about pancreatic cancer, because it's diagnosed at such late stages. There's really only two options, surgery and Chemotherapy. And the reason we know, that treatments are not as effective as we would like them to be is because the five years survival rate, in other words after five years the number of patients or the percentage of patients that are living, still after the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer are less than 5%. Have t