It's a question plenty of TV lovers are now asking: What is pancreatic cancer?
That's because earlier this month, host of the popular game show Jeopardy! Alex Trebek, announced that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Every few years, we hear about pancreatic cancer, typically from a celebrity. You may remember seeing headlines about celebrities like Patrick Swayze or Steve Jobs, both of whom died from pancreatic cancer.
Although pancreatic cancer is currently one of the most rare cancers, it's also one of the deadliest. It makes up about 3% of all U.S. cancer cases, but 7% of all cancer deaths. It attacks our pancreas, the same organ responsible for insulin production (and diabetes).
To put that in clearer perspective, only 20% of folks with pancreatic cancer live for one year after diagnosis. That number drops to 9% at five years. It isn't an immediate death sentence, but the odds certainly aren't good.
And according to the American Cancer Society, 56,770 Americans will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2019.
Pancreatic cancer often doesn't cause symptoms until you're in later stages, which is part of the reason it's so deadly. Symptoms include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, yellowing of the skin or eyes, pain in the abdomen, blood clots, and depression.
Overall, cancer-incidence numbers have fallen. That's great news. Better screening and prevention treatment have greatly improved our health. But we aren't out of the woods.
That's because, despite drops in colon, breast, and prostate cancer deaths, pancreatic and liver cancer rates are increasing. In fact, they're on course to become the second- and third-deadliest cancers by 2030 (lung cancer is still the top killer). And it's not just because of the drop in death rates from other cancers... More people will die from these two cancers every year.
The reason? One of the main risk factors is extra weight. Overweight and obese people have higher rates of pancreatic cancer. In fact, obese people have a 20% increase in risk for pancreatic cancer. Considering one-third of the U.S. population is obese, that's a lot of folks with a much higher risk.
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Extra weight increases inflammation, but also affects your insulin resistance and contributes to diabetes. Type 2 diabetes increases pancreatic cancer risk. The good news is that early detection blood tests for pancreatic cancer might soon become a possibility for folks with diabetes.
But pancreatic cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. As oncologist Robert Wolff from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center told Scientific American, about 30% of all pancreatic cancer cases are preventable.
This is why we continue to urge you to follow a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Fasting also helps you not only lose weight, but control your blood sugar.
There's also more evidence that targeting our gut bugs could boost the response rate to chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.
Another reason the cancer is so deadly is that the bacteria in pancreatic cancer tumors actually suppress the immune system. But if scientists can figure out how to change that and "switch on" our immune system to fight the cancer, we could see significant improvement in survival rates.
If you or a loved one receive a diagnosis for pancreatic cancer or any other type of deadly cancer, we want to make sure you're prepared.
What to Do After a Cancer Diagnosis
One of the first questions you want to ask your doctor is very simple... "What are the top three centers in this field of cancer?"
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is responsible for conducting cutting-edge cancer research, providing funding for other research projects, and educating doctors and the public about cancer diagnosis and treatments. It has a network of designated cancer centers as well as highly specialized clinical-trial centers throughout the U.S. These are the places to go for state-of-the-art treatment.
You may not have the resources to go to these centers for treatment – the costs and travel may be outside your budget – but these centers could have resources to help you. The world is getting smaller, and you may be able to be a part of cutting-edge and important research from these centers while you stay in your hometown.
If you can't afford treatment, think about joining a clinical trial. Clinical trials often pay for medications. These trials usually come from the top centers... Remember to ask who is doing the cutting-edge work in your cancer field. If your cancer doctor seems offended or bored by the idea or effort needed to get you involved, get another doctor – or contact the centers yourself.
Now, this is just one of the most important questions to ask. We've put together a list with nine other questions in our book, The Living Cure. We also show you how to find your closest NCI cancer center and how to find a clinical trial.
If you don't already have a copy, you can get one right here.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: Another reason to follow my lifestyle tips.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 19, 2019