Finding cancer at its earliest stages is one of the most important factors in its successful treatment and cure. Unfortunately, there are no effective screening methods for early detection of pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and because the pancreas lies deep within the body, pancreatic tumors often are not discovered until they are quite large and advanced. Pancreatic cancer also may not produce any signs or symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage or spreads to other organs.
However, a number of risk factors are known to be significant in the development of cancer in the pancreas, and some of these risks can be controlled:
•Smoking—one of the most important risk factors for pancreatic and other types of cancer
•Obesity—carrying extra weight around the waistline is also a risk factor, even if the person is not obese
•Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)—often associated with excessive alcohol use and smoking
•Diabetes—the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is complex, but having diabetes can increase a person’s risk
Risk factors that cannot be controlled include the following:
•Age—most patients with pancreatic cancer are over age 65
•Family history—pancreatic cancer seems to run in some families
•Gender—men are at higher risk than women
•Race—African Americans are at slightly higher risk than whites
About 1.6 percent of men and women in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at some point during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, having one or even several of these risk factors does not mean a person will develop cancer. You can significantly reduce your risk by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and properly managing diabetes.