News from Illinois CancerCare

The Impact of Pancreatic Cancer

The statistics are brutal: the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is only 8%.1 But we’re not willing to accept these dismal rates. That’s why we’re working to find ways to identify pancreatic cancer sooner, which can lead to improved survival rates.

Since November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, we’re providing you with insights into this disease, possible symptoms, genetic screening and the story of one courageous woman.

Signs and Symptoms

Unlike a lump in your breast or an odd-looking spot on your skin that can indicate the possibility of breast cancer or melanoma, it can be very difficult (or impossible) to diagnose pancreatic cancer at an early stage.

Some of the symptoms that could point to pancreatic cancer are also common to other conditions or everyday changes in your body. If you experience the following symptoms, reach out to your primary care provider to determine if you need diagnostic testing or a referral to Illinois CancerCare (ILCC):

  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Floating stools with bad odor and odd color
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Stomach bloating
  • Burning feeling in stomach
  • Pain in upper abdomen or upper back
  • Fever
  • Chills

If you are diagnosed, here are some questions to ask your doctor or other members of the health care team, to help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care

Possible Risk Factors

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact likelihood of pancreatic cancer occurrence, there are some factors that may increase the risk. While some are outside of your control, a few can be managed (like smoking and weight).

  • Gender: More men get pancreatic cancer than women, with an estimated 29,200 men and 26,240 women expected to be diagnosed this year.
  • Smoking Status: Those who smoke are at a higher risk for many cancers, including pancreatic.
  • Race/Ethnicity: Black individuals and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than white, Asian or Hispanic men and women.
  • Obesity and High-Fat Diet: Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet is important to avoid a range of cancers and health conditions.
  • Diabetes: Some studies have shown a link between long-time diabetes and being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In some cases, adult-onset diabetes may be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.
  • Alcohol Intake: Chronic drinking causes a variety of health (and social) problems, including cirrhosis of the liver and potentially pancreatitis.
  • Cirrhosis: Although most cases of cirrhosis in the United States are the result of heavy drinking, it can also be caused by viral hepatitis or other chronic liver disease.
  • Hepatitis B: While more research needs to be done, one study showed that a previous hepatitis B infection was twice as common among people with pancreatic cancer than those without it.
  • Chronic Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas is often painful and may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Family History: Some families
  • Age: As with many cancers, the risk increases with age. Although adults of any age can be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, 90% are older than 55.
  • have an abnormally high rate of pancreatic cancer, which is referred to as familial pancreatic cancer (FPC). Some rare inherited diseases could also be precursors to pancreatic cancer.

Because 5-10% of all cancers may be hereditary, the Illinois CancerCare Foundation is now funding a screening program for patients at risk of developing cancer family syndromes due to genetic mutations. We’ve recently expanded this program to include family members of ILCC patients who have pancreatic cancer. For more information, please check out our video about the Community Pancreatic Cancer Genetic Testing initiative.

One Life, Enduring Legacy

Our patients leave an indelible imprint on our lives and fuel our commitment to continuing the fight to cure cancer. Theresa Tracy is one of those patients.

A lifelong resident of Central Illinois, Theresa Naramore married her high school sweetheart, Tony Tracy. Active in their church and community, the Tracys had three wonderful children. In spite of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Tracy maintained a positive attitude and celebrated each day with joy.

In 2013, three years after Tracy’s death, a group of her beloved friends and family formed the Theresa Tracy Strive to Survive organization. Each November, this all-volunteer group puts on The Theresa Tracy Trot, which is a four-mile run or two-mile walk along the East Peoria Riverfront and Levee District. Donations to the Trot support the group’s mission of increasing survivability of pancreatic cancer through funding for research for early detection, testing and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer here.