How to identify and manage early signs of pancreatic cancer

Over the past half a century, the incidence of cancer has risen strikingly and this dreaded disease has become far more common than it was then. The annual global cancers amount to a staggering 18.1 million new cases annually (GLOBOCAN 2018).

India itself has 1.15 new cancer cases diagnosed annually. Pancreatic cancer remains a challenging disease with high mortality and morbidity as despite dramatic improvements in cancer care and outcomes, the outcome of pancreatic cancer remains dismal but there is hope and a good chance of cure with early diagnosis.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Ajay Singh, Lead Medical Oncologist at Sunrise Oncology Centre, shared, “There are certain risk factors which can make people with these risk factors to be a t a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. These include history of prolonged smoking (preset or Past), family history of pancreatic cancer, history of hereditary pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis. Obesity and diabetes have also been found to have a higher risk in some data sets.”

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Highlighting that the most common symptom of pancreatic cancer is pain, he explained, “This pain is usually located in the upper part of the abdomen. It can be a sharp pain or a dull aching pain which you may feel going to your back. Of course, not all abdominal pains are cancer and pain should be taken more seriously if it is recurrent or chronic. Another concerning symptom is weight loss. If you have been experiencing weight loss without trying, then it may be of concern and a visit to your doctor should be on the top of your to do list. As pancreas also participate digestion new onset frequent indigestion, loose stools with weight loss does warrant evaluation from your primary physician.”

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Bringing his expertise to the same, Dr Ajay Mandal, Consultant – GI and Hepato-Biliary Surgeon, Department of Gastro Sciences, CMRI at CK Birla Hospitals in Kolkata, revealed, “Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy stands out as the most sensitive diagnostic tool for identifying gastric cancer, by detecting gastric ulcers. The only curative approach for gastric cancer is surgical intervention, with the Whipple surgery being the recommended procedure. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are typically employed as preoperative measures to enhance the success of the surgery.”

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He concluded, “The challenge of early diagnosis of cancer lies in the fact that most of the symptoms are common symptoms and often go unnoticed. A good rule of thumb would be to always be aware of your own baseline health and any prolonged deviation from that should prompt you to visit your doctor sooner rather than later.”

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