The little pancreas is making big waves in November. This month is focused on Pancreatic Cancer Awareness by raising its profile, supporting patients who have it, and working to improve detection and treatment. Pancreatic Cancer accounts for 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, putting it at number three in causes of cancer death. Each year Carolina Digestive supports the Purple Stride in an effort to fund pancreatic cancer research, but your efforts aren’t limited to one event per year. Education is also a key in making “strides” against this devastating disease. Raise your awareness by better understanding this organ’s role and how to protect it.
What exactly does the pancreas do? The pancreas is a gland organ that is part of the digestive system. It is located in the abdomen and is about six inches long. Although small, the pancreas has an important role of assisting in digestion and regulating blood sugar. The pancreas produces digestive juices, or enzymes, and insulin. Without both, the entire gastrointestinal tract would cease to function properly. A healthy pancreas helps the intestines absorb food by breaking down protein, carbohydrates, and fats. It provides energy to muscles and tissues and helps the liver absorb glucose by storing it in case the body needs extra energy.
It is clear that the pancreas serves a vital function in the body. It is also easy to see why a disease that affects the pancreas presents a great risk to the whole body. Sadly, there is no way to prevent pancreatic cancer, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk. The first is to stop smoking. Smoking makes you twice as likely to get pancreatic cancer as someone who doesn’t smoke. Research has shown that the risk decreases almost immediately after quitting and continues to decline the longer a person stays smoke free, so don’t delay on this one!
The next step is to take control of your weight. In general, a healthy diet means choosing whole-grains over refined ones, eating fish, poultry, and beans instead of processed and red meat, and keeping snacks and sides to mostly vegetables. Regular activity is an important component of weight maintenance and pancreatic cancer deterrence. Research shows that people who exercise carry close to half the risk of pancreatic cancer as sedentary people. If you have struggled to lose weight in the past, you may wish to talk with us about OBERA®, which is a procedure we offer to help with weight loss.
Lastly, it is a good idea to limit alcohol use. While the direct link between alcohol use and pancreatic cancer is still unknown, heavy alcohol consumption can cause chronic pancreatitis and cirrhosis, and these conditions can lead to pancreatic cancer.
No matter what you do, sometimes pancreatic cancer still occurs, and in those instances, it is helpful to know what comes next. Upon diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, there many things your doctor will be checking for. One is the stage of the cancer, which will help determine the type, intensity, and length of treatment. Other factors in deciding treatment are a person’s overall health and medical and family history. Treatment options range from chemotherapy and chemotherapy protective drugs to radiation to surgery. For most people with pancreatic cancer, a combination of treatments is most effective, and options should be discussed and agreed upon between you and your doctor. One common concern of patients recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is pain. There is good news in this regard because there is such a wide variety of pain management options these days. Whether the pain is mild or severe, there are many things that can help reduce it, and most pancreatic cancer patients experience very good pain control. If you would like to know if you are at risk for pancreatic cancer, or if someone you know has pancreatic cancer and you have questions, come see us at Carolina Digestive. We have eight office locations, and you can book your appointment online.