The disease that has afflicted celebrities Alex Trebek, Aretha Franklin and Steve Jobs has been discussed frequently in recent years: pancreatic cancer. This deadly cancer occurs in the pancreas, the insulin-producing organ located behind the stomach.
You may feel like you’ve heard pancreatic cancer mentioned a lot because of these well-known patients, but maybe you don’t know much about the disease itself.
Pancreatic cancer affects over 56,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for about 3 percent of cancer cases and 7 percent of cancer deaths. Because it’s difficult to detect and treat, it’s often caught in a later stage. According to the American Cancer Society, only 9 percent of patients live five years past diagnosis. And the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network says pancreatic cancer is likely to be the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2020.
Cases of pancreatic cancer are rising for several reasons. It’s often diagnosed in an older population, and people are now living longer. Diabetes and obesity, two conditions that are also on the rise, are risk factors for the disease.
What are the signs? Pancreatic cancer does not often show symptoms in its early stages, but some are present as the disease progresses. Jaundice, where the skin and eyes look yellow, frequently occurs. People may appear to lose weight quickly. And some experience pain in the belly or back.
If any of these symptoms occur together, consult your physician. It may or may not be pancreatic cancer, but you still need to know what is causing these concerns.