Can We Catch Pancreatic Cancer Early?
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer because usually it is not caught until the disease has spread throughout the body. The American Cancer Society estimates that this year, 56,770 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 45,750 people will die of the disease. Only 9 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer live five years, according to the organization.
The average person has about a 1 percent chance of getting pancreatic cancer. For those of us with BRCA mutations, the risk is about 5 percent. I have a family history of pancreatic cancer, so I'm grateful to be able to participate in the Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Like ovarian cancer (which BRCA mutation carriers also face higher risks for), the warning signs of pancreatic cancer can be subtle and easily dismissed. Pain in the abdomen or back, sudden weight loss, loss of appetite and changes in stool can be signs of pancreatic cancer, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The signs of ovarian cancer also are subtle and include bloating and abdominal pain, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. There is no reliable screening to find ovarian cancer early.
The other day, I had my annual MRI screening UT Southwestern's pancreatic cancer program. There's only so much anyone can do to prevent disease. But programs like this are an important step toward detecting our deadliest cancers earlier.