You’ve heard the message loud and clear about how deadly lung cancer can be. We’ve dedicated the whole month of October to breast cancer awareness. And the entire sunscreen industry was built on counteracting the dangers of skin cancer.
Information about cancer is everywhere. And that’s fantastic, because educating ourselves is critical if we’re to have a fighting chance against this killer.
But while we’re doing a great job getting the word out about certain types of cancer, others aren’t getting the spotlight they deserve. And that could have deadly consequences.
Turns out, the third deadliest cancer in the entire country is one you likely haven’t heard much (if anything) about: pancreatic cancer.
Experts estimate more than 53,000 people will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis this year. More than 43,000 will die from the disease. And the five-year survival rate is a shocking four to nine percent.
In fact, pancreatic cancer is poised to become the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2020. But most folks still don’t know the warning signs of this killer.
A pancreas primer
The pancreas is a small organ about six inches long. It stretches across the abdomen behind your stomach. And it’s connected to your small intestine.
As a part of the digestive system, the pancreas has two major jobs: to produce enzymes that help digest food, and to release hormones (including insulin) that help control blood sugar levels.
Plus it provides a pathway for bile so your digestive fluids can begin breaking down food in your lower digestive tract.
Beware of these 5 pancreatic cancer red flags
Because your pancreas is located so deep in your body, your doctor can’t feel it in an exam. That makes knowing the warning signs of pancreatic cancer critical if you’re to catch it early.
1. A change in your stool:
If you notice a change in the color, look or consistency of your bowel movements keep track of the change. If it lasts for more than a few days, consider making an appointment to talk with your doctor.
Bowel movements which have become loose, smelly or full of “floaters” could be a sign your pancreas is in trouble. For example, a tumor may be blocking digestive enzymes from reaching the rest of your digestive tract, making it harder to digest fat. The increased, unprocessed fat in your stool can create this change in appearance.
Doctors say bowel movement changes are one of the very first warning signs of pancreatic cancer. But since we’re so reluctant to discuss the subject, they often go completely unreported.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you’ve noticed a change in your stool talk with your doctor today.
Another early warning sign of pancreatic cancer is yellowing of the skin, eyes and nails a condition called jaundice.
Jaundice can occur when your bile ducts are blocked by a tumor. As the bile builds up a component of the bile known as bilirubin also accumulates. The backed up bilirubin is responsible for turning your skin, eyes, and nails a yellowish color.
If your skin starts to look sallow, taking on a yellow or pale brown tinge, call the doctor immediately.
3. Itchy skin:
Another side effect of bilirubin buildup is itchy skin, especially on your palms and the soles of your feet. Sometimes an itch is just an itch, of course. But it’s an easy to miss, or misdiagnose, symptom so pay close attention.
If you notice a persistent itch, especially if it’s paired with any of these other pancreatic cancer red flags, get in touch with your doctor.
4. A sudden blood sugar spike:
Since the pancreas plays a big role in blood sugar control, if your levels suddenly spike it could be a warning sign of pancreatic cancer.
If you monitor your blood sugar already and notice an unusual rise, let your doctor know. If you don’t check your own sugar levels symptoms of a blood sugar spike to be on the lookout for are increased urination, excess thirst, fatigue and blurred vision.
5. Abdominal pain:
Many people with pancreatic cancer report that they had felt a dull ache in their abdomen, which radiated into their lower back, for several months before diagnosis. Unlike a simple muscle pull, this ache typically disappears if you lean forward.
If you‘ve been bothered by a persistent abdomen ache it’s worth getting checked to rule out pancreatic cancer.
All five of these pancreatic cancer red flags can be caused by something far less frightening. So if they seem familiar, you don’t need to panic.
However, if you found yourself nodding along as you read these warning signs it is a good idea to give your doctor a call. He can run the tests needed to set your mind at ease. And should they turn out to be actual signs of a pancreas problem he can get your treatment started early.