Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Pancreatic Cancer

(WEAU) - Last week, Art Ginsburg, the TV chef known as Mr. Food, sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer. November is pancreatic cancer awareness month, and Dr. Arnold is here today to talk more about this disease. Tell us a little more about this kind of cancer.

Dr. Arnold: The pancreas is an oblong organ near the stomach. It is about 6 inches long. It makes enzymes to help you digest your food and also releases hormones into your blood to help regulate your blood sugar. About 44,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and most will die from the disease.

Courtney Everett: Why is this disease so deadly?

Dr. Arnold: Many of these cancers are not discovered until late in the disease process when they are more difficult to treat. Often people don't have any symptoms until the disease is more advanced, and because of where the pancreas is located, it is difficult for health care providers to detect pancreatic cancer on physical exam. We don't have any great general screening tests for the disease.

Courtney Everett: Who is at higher risk for pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Arnold: More frequently, it occurs in older individuals. In fact, most are older than 55 years old. Various other factors, for example, being a smoker, certain dietary factors, having diabetes, or long-term inflammation of the pancreas can raise your risk also. Some genetic syndromes increase your chances of the disease.

Courtney Everett: what kinds of treatments are available?

Dr. Arnold: Treating pancreatic cancer is very difficult since it is frequently discovered after it is advanced and may have spread. Depending on the individual case, a physician may recommend some combination of surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. Surgeries for pancreatic cancer tend to be very complicated operations. Pancreatic cancer can be very painful for patients, so often pain control is a major focus. More research is needed to develop better treatments for this deadly disease.

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