The 3rd deadliest cancer: Know the symptoms to catch it early

Pancreatic cancer cases make up only 3% of all cancers, but it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths

Though it is rarer for people to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2023, pancreatic cancer will have the third-highest number of deaths (over 50,500). Pancreatic cancer is estimated to take the lives of about 2,000 fewer people than colorectal cancer (over 52,500), the second cause of cancer deaths just below the first leading cause, lung cancer (over 127,000). Even fewer people will die of breast cancer, which is the fourth deadliest (over 43,700).

Why is pancreatic cancer so deadly? There is no approved screening test, so it’s a difficult cancer to screen for and catch early. Oncologists stress that it is crucial to pay attention to the symptoms. Unfortunately, some of the symptoms can be mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you experience the below common symptoms, see your primary care provider.

Common signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

  • Bloating after eating
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss for no reason
  • Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
  • Dark urine
  • Light color stools
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes)

Risk factors that cause pancreatic cancer

The leading causes of pancreatic cancer are excessive alcohol use and smoking tobacco. Experts suggest that people who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol frequently or are former frequent drinkers or smokers should act and see their doctor if they experience symptoms. If you have a personal history of new onset diabetes or chronic pancreatitis, it is also essential that you are aware of the signs.

Understanding your family history of pancreatic cancer can help in trying to find the disease early. Consider discussing genetic testing with your provider if you have a family history. Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Genetic Counseling Service is offered to patients throughout the Karmanos Cancer Network and McLaren Health Care system. Click here to learn more.

The good news: New treatments are making a difference

Out of all of this, there is good news: the relative five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients has increased significantly over the past five decades, according to data from the National Cancer Institute. In the event of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Karmanos offers the most advanced treatments and clinical trials to treat the disease. Should you need to set up a consultation with one of our oncologists, click here to find your nearest location.