Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. According to the National Cancer institute, approximately 44,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012, and 37,000 will die from the disease. Within the first year of diagnosis, nearly 75 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die.
Part of the problem is that most people don’t recognize the symptoms of pancreatic cancer in the early stages of the disease, meaning the cancer isn’t detected until it reaches advanced stages. And even when the cancer is caught early, it tends to spread rapidly.
Risk factors of pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, diabetes and a family history of pancreatic cancer. Meanwhile, signs of the cancer include upper abdominal pain, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, jaundice, digestive problems, gallbladder enlargement and blood clots.
Doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer though a physical exam that focuses on the abdomen and includes imaging tests such as CAT scans, MRIs or ultrasounds, as well as blood tests. If the exam indicates a high likelihood of cancer, a surgeon will perform a biopsy known as a fine needle aspiration biopsy to retrieve tissue samples from the pancreas.