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Pancreatic Cancer Q&A with Dr. Kim

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the pancreas, the organ that aids in digestion and helps to manage blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer can spread silently with no symptoms until the cancer is well advanced.

How common is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the U.S. and the fourth deadliest—the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. By 2030, it is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the country. 93 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within five years of diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, one in 63 men and one in 65 women have a lifetime risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

What are its risk factors?

  • Tobacco use
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Exposure to chemicals such as pesticides or dyes
  • Increased age. The risk of pancreatic cancer increases with age, with 71 being the average age of diagnosis.
  • Gender. Men are 30 percent more likely than women to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Ethnicity. African-American. It is unclear why, but African-Americans are more likely than Caucasians to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history of the disease
  • Other medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, or stomach issues such as ulcer-causing bacteria.

What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Pain in the back or abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss or lack of appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Blood clots
  • Depression

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

Patients who are suspected of having pancreatic cancer may undergo imaging tests, an endoscopy, a biopsy, and blood tests to determine the diagnosis and the extent or stage of the disease.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Treatment may include some combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. If the cancer is advanced, chemotherapy may be used to control growth and prolong survival.

“Raising awareness is one of the most important things we can do to save lives,” says Dr. Kim. He adds, “The more people know, the more likely they are to pay attention to risks and the quicker they are to identify symptoms - all things that give them a better chance at survival and us a better chance to successfully treat them.”

Joseph J. Kim, MD is a member of Summit Health's General Surgery team who specializes in Complex Surgical Oncology. Dr. Kim’s areas of expertise include tumors of the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and biliary system, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, and rectum. He also has expertise in treating skin cancers and sarcomas, soft tissue tumors of the chest, abdomen, retroperitoneum, and extremities.