This blog post was medically reviewed by Va’Ronda Varnado, FNP-C and the Ezra medical team.
According to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. It is also the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, after lung and colon cancers.
Although there is no definite way to prevent pancreatic cancer, there are actionable steps to reduce one’s risk.
How? It all starts with early detection.
Currently, there is no widely accepted diagnostic tool or method for the early detection of pancreatic cancer in the general population. However, certain blood and imaging tests like MRI cancer detection may help detect the disease in its early stages for high-risk individuals.
Speaking with your healthcare provider about your pancreatic cancer risk and available screening options can make all the difference.
Keep reading for actionable steps and links to helpful resources to help reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer.
Table of contents
- What is Pancreatic Cancer?
- What Are the Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer?
- What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Pancreatic Cancer?
- Take Proactive Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Pancreatic Cancer
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the pancreas, a gland approximately six inches long that is located in the abdomen. It is surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver, spleen, and gallbladder, and has two main functions – digestion and blood sugar regulation.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 64,000 individuals will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and about 50,000 people will die of this type of cancer in 2023.
Pancreatic cancer accounts for approximately 3% of all cancers and 7% of all cancer deaths in the United States, and is slightly more common in men than women.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following as signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer:
- Radiating abdominal pain to the back
- Decreased appetite or unexpected weight loss
- Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Pale stools
- Dark urine
- Itchy skin
- New or worsening uncontrolled diabetes
- Blood clots
Once an individual notices these symptoms, they can receive a definitive diagnosis through imaging scans, blood tests, and biopsy.
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer are chosen based on the extent of the cancer. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination.
What Are the Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer?
Risk factors are anything that increases your chances of being diagnosed with a disease.
The American Cancer Society organizes the risk factors of pancreatic cancer into three groups:
- Risk factors that can be changed
- Risk factors that cannot be changed
- Factors that have an unclear effect on risk
Risk Factors That Can Be Changed
- Tobacco use: Individuals who smoke cigarettes are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who have never smoked.
- Obesity: Individuals who are obese have a 20% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who are within a healthy weight.
- Diabetes: Pancreatic cancer is more likely to occur in individuals with diabetes for more than five years, particularly in those with type 2 diabetes.
- Chronic pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is long-term inflammation of the pancreas and is often linked to heavy alcohol use and smoking.
- Chemical and heavy metal exposure: Research shows that certain heavy metals and environmental chemicals may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Examples include pesticides, asbestos, benzidine, and benzene.
Risk Factors That Cannot Be Changed
- Age: As people grow older, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases, with the average diagnosis age being 70.
- Gender: Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in men than in women.
- Race: African Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at a higher rate than any other racial group in the United States.
- Family history: You may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer if your parent, sibling, or child is diagnosed with it. This is called familial pancreatic cancer. Although it seems to run in some families, most individuals who get cancer of the pancreas have no existing family history.
- Inherited genetic syndromes: About 10% of pancreatic cancer diagnoses can be attributed to inherited mutations. Examples of these genetic syndromes include hereditary breast cancer, familial pancreatitis, Lynch syndrome, and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome. Genetic testing can find changes in the genes that cause some of these syndromes (see “Early Detection Methods” section below).
- Chronic pancreatitis (hereditary): The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is higher in individuals with hereditary pancreatitis than in those with chronic pancreatitis.
You can take control and reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer, even if some factors can’t be changed or their effect on risk is unclear. We’ll discuss these steps below.
What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Pancreatic Cancer?
It is not possible to completely prevent pancreatic cancer. Thankfully, there are specific concrete actions you can take to reduce your risk of developing it.
Lifestyle changes, dietary considerations, and early detection methods are available to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Certain lifestyle changes you can make might lower your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. These include:
- Not smoking
- Watching your body weight
- Engaging in regular physical activity
- Avoiding alcohol use
- Limiting your exposure to certain chemicals and heavy metals
Another important way to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer is following a healthy diet.
For example, processed foods, red meats, and sugary drinks may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting these food groups and following a diet that includes mainly vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to lower cancer risk.
Early Detection Methods
According to John Hopkins Medicine, early pancreatic cancer does not usually show symptoms. Many individuals do not know they have pancreatic cancer until it has grown and even spread to other organs.
Fortunately, there are ways to screen for potential cancer and early disease of the pancreas. Let’s take a look at each one below.
1. Medical History and Physical Exam
It is important to discuss potential risk factors of pancreatic cancer (like smoking and your family history) with your healthcare provider.
Regular visits to your doctor can ensure pancreatic cancer symptoms such as abdominal pain and yellowing of the skin are not missed. If anything seems concerning, your doctor can order tests to help determine the issue.
2. Genetic Testing
Certain people have inherited gene mutations (such as BRCA) in their cells, increasing their risk for pancreatic cancer.
Testing for these genetic mutations can determine a person’s risk for developing pancreatic cancer. To learn more, go to the guidelines for genetic testing for relatives of people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
3. Imaging Tests
Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans use technology like x-rays and magnetic fields to create pictures of the organs in your body. These imaging techniques can help assess abnormalities in the pancreas and surrounding organs.
For example, a pancreas MRI can help healthcare practitioners assess abnormalities in the pancreas and the surrounding ducts. It can help them detect pancreatic pathologies like cysts, lesions, and potential early cancer.
Learn more: The Pancreas Polyp Vs Cyst
Ezra offers patients full-body MRI screenings to help screen for potential early cancer. Ezra’s health screening tests are designed to empower individuals with an advanced imaging modality that is accurate, fast, and cost-effective. You can scan your pancreas and 12 other organs in less than an hour.
Unlike CT scans, MRI does not use harmful ionizing radiation. This means that you don’t need to worry about any exposure to ionizing radiation and can repeat the screening annually to monitor your pancreas and other organs.
Learn more: Elective CT Scan vs. MRI: Which Should You Choose?
Finally, an endoscopic ultrasound is also widely used in diagnosing pancreatic cancer. Aside from helping reach a definite diagnosis, it can also assist in obtaining tumor samples in the pancreas. Plus, it can detect small pancreatic masses that might not show up on CT or MRI scans.
Take Proactive Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Pancreatic Cancer
Although pancreatic cancer is not fully preventable, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Being aware of your family history of pancreatic cancer, making smart lifestyle choices, eating a balanced diet, and scheduling an appointment for early detection can help keep you informed about the state of your pancreas.
Ezra’s full-body MRI scan is one of the concrete steps you can take to understand your body better and take control of your pancreatic health.
Book an Ezra full-body MRI scan today.
Do you have a loved one who could benefit from an Ezra scan? Purchase one of our Ezra gift cards.
You can also schedule a call with our team to learn more. Contact us at (888) 402-3972 or email@example.com