We all know what cancer is, and the unfortunate likelihood is that we all probably know someone who has been touched by cancer. But with the enormous amount of different variations of cancer, it can be overwhelming to know how to show your support or even spot the signs of the each individual strain of the disease. The important thing is to start somewhere and with education, and a good place to start could be this November with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
The month of November is dedicated to pancreatic awareness, having evolved from a Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Week originating in the United States. Now the awareness month spreads worldwide, and brings together different charities and individuals who want to make a difference.
According to pancreatic.org, pancreatic cancer is the “third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States surpassing breast cancer and it is expected to become the 2nd by 2020, surpassing colon cancer. Every day more than 1,250 people worldwide will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In nearly every country, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a single-digit five-year survival rate of 9%. While death rates decline for other cancers, they are increasing for pancreatic cancer. Survival rates have not improved substantially for the past 40 years.”
So what exactly is pancreatic cancer?
Webmd explains that pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the tissues of the pancreas. “The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar. Cells called exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, while cells called endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. The majority of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells.”
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include jaundice, pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue and/or depression. Your risk of developing pancreatic cancer can increase with smoking, chronic pancreatitis, inherited conditions, familial pancreatic cancer syndromes, long-standing diabetes and obesity.
The NHS says that in about 1 in 10 cases, pancreatic cancer is inherited. “Certain genes also increase your chances of getting pancreatitis, which in turn increases your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. If you have two or more close relatives who have had pancreatic cancer or you have an inherited disease, such as Lynch or Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, your doctor may recommend regular check-ups as you may be at increased risk of pancreatic cancer.”
How can you get a diagnosis for pancreatic cancer?
The NHS further adds that your GP should be your first port of call, so if you are experiencing any symptoms that have you worried, it’s advisable to book an appointment. Your GP will first ask about your general health and carry out a physical examination. They may examine your stomach for lumps and to see whether your liver is enlarged. They'll also check your skin and eyes for signs of jaundice and may request a sample of your urine and a blood test. If your GP suspects pancreatic cancer, you'll usually be referred to a specialist at a hospital for further investigation.
How is pancreatic cancer treated?
Sadly this type of cancer is difficult to treat as because it rarely causes symptoms early on, meaning it’s often not detected early enough.
The NHS explains that if you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your treatment will depend on the type and location of your cancer and how far it's advanced, also known as its stage. The three main treatments for pancreatic cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
How can you show your support during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month?
Pancreatic cancer is daunting, but there are things you can do to show your support and make a difference during the month of November. Your support can help fund vital research, provide specialist support and campaign for change.
Pancreaticcancer.org suggest that you could try doing their ‘Challenge 24’. They explain that in the UK, 24 people die from pancreatic cancer every day. “You can help change this shocking statistic by taking on Challenge 24 this November. Walk, run or ride 24 miles in November for a day, a week or a month.”
Another idea for supporting Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is to bring your friends and family together for a Bake Off and raise money for a good cause. Actually, you can support Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in any way you can think of. Every penny really does count and your support will make a difference and save lives, so be creative, host a karaoke party or even have a bingo night.
Lastly, during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month you could go to the extreme of shaving, dyeing or waxing your hair or even dressing purple (less extreme) as a way to raise vital awareness of pancreatic cancer. Even the smallest of gestures can go a long way to improving the lives of those with pancreatic cancer.