As many as 5,000 Canadians (and 50,000 Americans) are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.
Pancreatic cancer is considered to be one of the most deadly forms of cancer to be diagnosed with, as symptoms of pancreatic cancer typically do not present themselves until the cancer is already in a late stage and has spread to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed. In 25% of pancreatic cancer cases, it has not yet spread, but remains inoperable. As an inoperable cancer, it cannot be treated but can be controlled with cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.
While the mortality rates of pancreatic cancer have certainly decreased over the years, it’s still considered to be a predominantly incurable cancer, with as many as 70% of pancreatic cancer cases still leading to death.
Given the location of the pancreas, which sits in front of the spine and deep in the abdomen, it can be a very difficult cancer to treat. Once pancreatic cancer has metastasized, symptoms one may experience include severe abdominal pain (that often radiates into the back), skin discolouration (also known as jaundice), fatigue, lack of appetite, and unintended weight loss. Individuals with pancreatic cancer may also develop an onset of other health issues including blood clots, diabetes, and depression.
To accurately diagnose pancreatic cancer, Dr. Ali Ghahary will send patients for a series of tests – including blood tests and medical imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. If certain proteins are elevated in your blood, this may be an indicator of pancreatic cancer. You may also be required to have a biopsy so that cells and tissues can be tested. If pancreatic cancer is confirmed, Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients to a specialist known as an oncologist. Oncologists are responsible for continuing the care of cancer patients as well as coming up with treatment plans.
In order to avoid pancreatic cancer, there are certain measures you can take. If you are a smoker, you should be aware that this is one of the leading causes of pancreatic cancer. By quitting smoking you not only reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but also improve your overall health. Dr. Ali Ghahary shares tips on how to quit smoking as well as how to break other bad habits here. While cancer can affect anyone, individuals who are obese have a higher risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so it is important that you maintain a healthy weight. If you are struggling with your weight and/or looking to improve your diet, you can always talk to Dr. Ali Ghahary for advice. He practices at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, and is available to see patients on a walk-in basis. You can find his full walk-in schedule and clinic hours here. Lastly, avoid alcohol. Excessive alcohol can lead to cirrhosis, which is a degenerative disease of the liver, and can also lead to pancreatic cancer.