It is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Teach public best prevention techniques

Pancreatic cancer makes headlines when someone famous dies of the disease such as Luciano Pavarotti, the world-renowned opera singer that lost his fight with the disease in early September 2007.

Otherwise, the general public does not pay much attention to the disease.

"Most people probably don't even know they have a pancreas and what their pancreas does," says Michelle Duff, DPT, director of patient and liaison services and medical affairs for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) located in El Segundo, CA.

To bring more attention to the disease and increase research funding, PanCAN has designated November as "National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month." According to PanCAN there is a great need for early detection and better treatment options for the deadliest of all cancers. Currently, 75% of all patients with pancreatic cancer die within 12 months of diagnosis. It is ranked as the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

"We have so few answers and we understand so little about the disease compared to other types of cancer," says Duff.

While knowledge of pancreatic cancer prevention and detection is probably where breast cancer was 50 years ago, there is a lot of information the general public needs to know, adds Duff.

First, people need to know if they have immediate family diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, they should talk to their physician about their risk and the possibility of participating in a screening protocol.

"Those who have a family history of the disease can participate in some type of surveillance or screening protocol to see if the doctors can see types of changes to help determine if something abnormal is happening," explains Duff.

Also people need to understand there are treatment options and physicians who specialize in the disease, so if diagnosed they can choose treatment. While much research is needed, some patients do very well with treatment, according to Duff.

"We don't want people to think that because this is an uphill battle they shouldn't even try. We have a whole network of people who are surviving and talk with others that are diagnosed with this disease so they know there is hope," says Duff.

PanCAN works to not only raise awareness and increase funding for pancreatic cancer but also to support those diagnosed with the disease.

Best ways to prevent pancreatic cancer

The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2007 about 37,170 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 33,370 of these patients will die of the disease.

Because pancreatic cancer is such a deadly disease, the best scenario is to prevent it in the first place. Yet there is not a lot known about how the disease develops. One risk factor for pancreatic cancer is smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, people who smoke are two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Three out of 10 cases of this cancer are thought to be caused by smoking.

Other factors include a family history, obesity, and lack of physical activity. The risk of developing the disease goes up with age as well. The average age of diagnosis is 72, with 90% of the cases diagnosed in peopled older than 55.

There also seems to be some connection between diabetes and pancreatic cancer but it is not known if the diabetes is being caused by the pancreatic cancer or vice versa, explains Duff.

While there is no solid information on particular foods to eat to prevent pancreatic cancer, it is recommended that people eat a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. The American Cancer Society recommends people cut back on red meat, especially meat that is processed or high in fat.

The typical symptoms that prompt people to seek a medical diagnosis are jaundice, unexplained weight loss, pain, and indigestion. Because warning signs are vague, the pancreatic cancer is usually more advanced by the time it is diagnosed.

"We don't have good early warning signs and we definitely don't have good early detection tools for this disease. Occasionally, someone has a tumor in just the right location so it will cause jaundice when it is small and then people will go to the doctor when it is in an early stage," says Duff.