Pancreatic Cancer is On the Rise. So Is Hope for Earlier Detection.
A new discovery from researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre has clarified the long-established connection between inflammation and pancreatic cancer development.
According to a recent study, pancreatic cells display an adaptive response to repeated inflammatory episodes that initially protects against tissue damage but can promote tumour formation in the presence of mutant KRAS gene.
A mutant KRAS -- which is found in roughly 95% of all pancreatic cancers -- supports this adaptive response, leading to selective pressure to maintain the cancer-causing mutation.
Inflammation has long been linked to tumour development in several cancer types, but the specific reasons behind this connection were previously unclear.
Inflammation causes immediate pathological changes in pancreatic cells, but they resolved within one week. However, activation of KRAS even months following the resolution of inflammation can result in accelerated tumour formation.
What Can You Do To Help Prevent It?
So far, screening tools that help us early-detect and successfully treat other kinds of cancer haven’t worked for pancreatic cancer. But some preventive steps may help. Avoiding smoking is a big one, since researchers estimate that it accounts for about 25% of cases.
Limiting alcohol. the consumption of red meat, processed foods, and added sugars should also offer some protection. These habits contribute to other important risk factors for this cancer, including chronic pancreatitis (a painful inflammation of the pancreas) as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: eating a healthy diet, staying active, and skipping alcohol and smoking are smart moves toward preventing all kinds of cancer.
About 10% of cases are associated with a family history of the disease. If you have two or more first-degree relatives (a parent, sibling, or child) who have had this cancer, or one who was diagnosed before age 50, you should strongly consider meeting with a genetic counsellor to determine your own risk and to see if you qualify for a close surveillance program. That typically includes regular MRIs or endoscopic ultrasound tests of your pancreas that are not routinely available to everyone.
I also recommend these close surveillance measures for people with chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cysts. These are conditions that are typically benign when they cause symptoms you’ll notice. But they may evolve into cancer over time. By monitoring them closely with imaging tests, we can detect pre-cancerous or cancerous changes early, when they’re most treatable and even curable.
What Symptoms Should You Act On?
The important message is that it’s critically important not to wait when you notice any changes in your body that could be signs of pancreatic cancer.
The two most noticeable symptoms may be pain in your upper middle abdomen, just below the rib cage, that may even radiate through to your back, and yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes.
Other symptoms include:
Light, clay-colored stools and/or dark urine
A sudden diagnosis of diabetes over age 50
Digestion trouble or bloating
Unexplained weight loss
The biggest mistake people make is noticing these odd changes in their body or health and ignoring them. If something unusual like that persists for more than two days, call your doctor. Don’t wait and see, especially if you have other risk factors. In addition, stay on track with all your recommended screenings for other cancers.