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Lifestyle Changes Help Lower Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Survival rates remain low, but healthy choices may help prevent disease

DAYTON, Ohio (October 14, 2019) – Advancements in medical treatment have allowed many people to cope with a cancer diagnosis that may have once been thought of as fatal.  However, diseases such as pancreatic cancer have eluded this apparent trend as five-year survival rates remain relatively low.

“In 2019, it’s estimated that there will be about 57,000 patients who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States, and that only about 9 percent will survive by the five-year mark,” said Matthew P. Doepker, MD, a surgical oncologist with Premier Surgical Oncology. “Though these statistics don’t seem to inspire much hope, we are learning more about the disease that can help people lower their risks, and improve their overall health.”

A lack of early detection remains one of the biggest reasons for pancreatic cancer’s low survival rate.  In many cases, pancreatic cancer is not discovered until a patient is already in the advanced stages of the disease, which includes distant spread to organs such as the lungs or the liver. 

The inability to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage of development has little or nothing to do with a lack of vigilance or proper medical oversight.

“Pancreatic cancer usually has a very nonspecific presentation in terms of symptoms, and even though we hear of new cases around the country each year, it’s a disease that remains rare,” said Dr. Doepker, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “If an older patient, for example, has nonspecific complaints like abdominal pain, weight loss, and lethargy, most primary care providers aren't usually thinking about the possibility of pancreatic cancer.”

Though other symptoms may present themselves such as a yellowed, or jaundiced complexion, or a new diabetes diagnosis over the age of 50, early-stage diagnosis remains elusive.  Patients with those symptoms will usually have a computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen and pelvis, which can be followed by an endoscopic ultrasound if a mass or tumor is detected. Tumor markers may also be evident in blood tests. However, universal screening for pancreatic cancer remains somewhat unreliable since it can often produce false-positive results that can needlessly increase patient anxiety and medical costs.

Once diagnosed, however, specialists determine if a tumor can be removed or shrunken through the use of chemotherapy. Removal comes with its own set of challenges since the pancreas itself sits in close proximity with important blood vessels and other organs of importance. Despite these very real challenges, Dr. Doepker states that there are many things that the average person can do to lower their risk of the disease. 

“The biggest risk factor that has shown the closest correlation with pancreatic cancer, is cigarette smoking,” Dr. Doepker said. “Chronic alcoholism is another risk factor since it can lead to pancreatitis, the inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to pancreatic cancer. Obesity and uncontrolled diabetes are additional risk factors that patients can control or modify. It is also possible that some individuals may possess certain genetic mutations that make them more predisposed to the disease than others, so people who are closely related to someone who has had pancreatic cancer may consult with their physician.”

As researchers learn more about this disease, a number of advancements continue to be made in its treatment through the use of immunotherapy and other clinical trials. Data continues to be collected through advanced studies that offer hope for future breakthroughs. 

“If you look not only at pancreatic cancer, but the landscape of cancer treatment in the United States, there have been some tremendous advances in the field of medical oncology,” Dr. Doepker said.  “There are more medicines available with more findings to come, but we're definitely seeing some improvements already.” 

For more information about pancreatic cancer or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit www.PremierPhysicianNet.com/Provider.

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