Approximately 28,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed each year. Since symptoms are rare during the early stages, pancreatic cancer is usually not diagnosed until it has reached advanced stages. In fact, pancreatic cancer is ranked behind only lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer as the most common causes of cancer death. Weight loss is one of the most pronounced symptoms of pancreatic cancer-most people who have the disease lose 25 pounds or more once the cancer has become established.
Smoking is the primary risk factor for pancreatic cancer. People who have had diabetes or are over the age of 60 are also at increased risk, as are people who consume high-fat diets or are exposed to industrial carcinogens. The disease strikes men more often than women, and men of African-American or native-Hawaiian decent are especially susceptible.
Signs and Symptoms
In its early stages, pancreatic cancer often produces no symptoms. When it reaches later stages, the most common symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
- Appetite and weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Change in bowel movements, including constipation and diarrhea
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Blood in the stool (indicative of intestinal bleeding)
Conventional Medical Treatment
If you have any of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, see your physician, who feels your abdomen for signs of tenderness or swelling. If pancreatic cancer is suspected, your doctor may take an ultrasound, CAT scan, or X-ray. A biopsy of pancreatic tissue may be necessary to confirm diagnosis.
Treatment for the condition depends on the extent of the cancer. If the tumor is small and limited to the tissues of the pancreas, the mass alone can be surgically removed. If the cancer has spread to the intestine, your physician may need to remove a portion of the affected intestine well. Follow-up for either of these surgeries Usaually includes chemotherapy or radiation. If cancer has spread extensively to surrounding tissues or nearby organs, chemotherapy may be only option.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture An acupuncturist may be able to help lessen the abdominal and back pain caused by pancreatic cancer. Up to 10 body points may be stimulated during the session, including those associated with the bladder, small intestine, and governing vessel.
Acupressure Acupoints that may be pressed in an attempt to alleviate back pain are Bladder, Kidney, and Conception Vessel. If the pain is concentrated in and around the abdomen, acupoints on the torso will probably be added.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Immune-strengthening herbs may be used to improve the body’s abilities to fight pancreatic cancer, including garlic, astragalus, aloe vera, and morinda root. Additional herbs may be prescribed to combat abdominal discomfort and other cancer-related symptoms.
There is also an extract of soy that is used for cancer therapy.