Pancreatic cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
Lung and colon cancer were the deadliest in 2018, but it’s expected pancreatic will move beyond colon cancer in the coming years according to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
One of the reasons pancreatic cancer can be so deadly is the speed at which it can metastasize, or spread to other areas of the body.
Researchers at UH are seeing pancreatic cancer spreading faster than almost all other cancers.
“Based on our research, small cancers, less than even 1 cm in size have often spread microscopically,” said Dr. Jordan Winter, Division Chief of Surgical Oncology at UH. “Additionally, we think that the very harsh environment that surrounds pancreatic cancer cells needs to powerful adaptive mechanisms that also protect pancreatic cancer cells against other toxic insults like chemotherapy.”
According to Dr. Winter, one of the biggest risks for developing pancreatic cancer is smoking.
“The most important environmental cause for pancreatic cancer is smoking," Winter said. “Smoking is such a strong risk factor for other cancers as well, and people who continue to expose themselves to this risk should be persistent and do everything they can, going with all available resources, to quit.”
Other symptoms of early onset pancreatic cancer are:
- New onset or exacerbation of diabetes
- New onset or exacerbation of depression
- Unintentional weight loss
- Greasy stool
- Abdominal or back pain
But even when recognizing early symptoms, doctors have seen patients who didn’t get checked out for fear of what could be found.
“It is no wonder the patients take the path of least resistance,” Dr. Winter said. “However, early time to diagnosis and treatment is such a powerful step towards improving outcomes.”
Winter said in the past 10 years there have been advancements in treatment, safer surgeries and multi-agent chemotherapy that should give people hope not fear.
The UH is currently involved in a study looking at precursors, or markers, for pancreatic cancer in people who have a family history of the illness before there are any symptoms.
If selected, subjects are followed for 10 years with annual checkups where blood and pancreatic fluid are collected for testing.
According to a UH spokesperson they currently have 56 subjects enrolled from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan and include several family groups.
The study is looking to enroll more people that meet the following criteria:
- In general, age 50-55 years-old or 10 years younger than the age of the youngest relative with pancreatic cancer.
- Have a genetic mutation, known to put individuals at higher risk for pancreatic cancer including BRCA1, BRCA2, ATM, PALB2, FAMMM (p16/CDKN2A), HNPCC, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome or Lynch Syndrome.
- Come from a family with two or more members with a history of pancreatic cancer. One of these relatives must be a first degree relative (mother, father or sibling).
If you would like to enroll in the study visit this site, and enter study registration number: NCT02000089