Human Body Organs Anatomy Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Affects Fewer but Is Deadlier than Other Cancers

Cancer is a terrifying diagnosis. The cells in the body grow out of control, crowding out normal cells and creating complications in the part of the body where they’re growing.

Cancer screenings and early detection have improved the survival rates with several more common cancers like breast, lung, prostate, and skin cancer. But pancreatic cancer is hard to detect, has limited screenings, and the diagnosis usually comes too late. It only accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S. but more than twice the percentage of cancer deaths — 7 percent. Only 9 percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer live to five years.

The Difficulty with Detection

Doctor Showing Pacreatic Cancer Model

The pancreas is a six-inch-long gland between the stomach and the spine. It makes enzymes that help with digestion and hormones that control blood-sugar levels. Its location within the body makes it difficult for doctors to feel any growths or scan. It’s blocked by the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen and bile ducts. Symptoms don’t appear until the tumor has grown very large or the cancer has spread to other organs. The symptoms are also similar to many of the symptoms of other illnesses, making it that much harder to diagnose.

Some signs or symptoms include:

  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Light-colored stools
  • Dark urine
  • Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Exhaustion

These are symptoms for exocrine tumors of the pancreas which are the most common pancreatic cancer.

Types of Pancreatic Tumors

Pancreatic Cancer Scan in Human Abdomen

Most pancreatic tumors are exocrine, meaning they start with the cells that produce digestive enzymes. About 93 percent of pancreatic cancers are this type. In nine out of 10 cases the resulting tumor is called adenocarcinoma. Other exocrine tumors include:

  • Acinar cell carcinoma which causes the pancreas to make too much of an enzyme that digests fats.
  • Intraductal papillary-mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) which can start benign but become cancerous, especially if it’s formed in the main pancreatic duct.
  • Mucinous cystic neoplasm with an invasive adenocarcinoma is a cyst filled with thick fluid formed on the “tail” of the pancreas. It’s found mostly in women.

Realizing the Risks

Pancreatic Cancer Cell

There is no single cause of pancreatic cancer and it can affect anyone. It killed comedian Bill Hicks at the age of 32 while Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg battled the disease for 11 years before passing at 87. People are most often diagnosed after the age of 65.

There are factors that could increase the risk including:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas
  • Family history of genetic syndromes that increase cancer risk
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Obesity
  • Older age

While nothing can be done about aging or family history, you can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer if you:

  • Don’t smoke. This includes vaping. Quit if you do. Your doctor can help with medications, support groups, or nicotine replacement therapy.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Smaller portions of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, combined with exercise, can put you on the path to losing one to two pounds a week, and help with weight loss.
  • Eat healthy. A colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with fewer processed foods, can help reduce the risk of numerous cancers, including pancreatic.
  • Control your diabetes. Routine testing, exercise, a healthy diet, and regularly taking your medication as prescribed will help keep diabetes from becoming a contributing factor.

You may want to talk to a genetic counselor if your family has a history of pancreatic cancer. Genetic testing can help determine if you inherited similar genetic sequences. This doesn’t mean you have pancreatic cancer, but you may have inherited traits that put you at an increased risk. With that knowledge, you and your doctor can decide on whether to schedule an endoscopic ultrasound or an MRI. These tests aren’t used to screen the general public, but someone with a strong family history or a genetic syndrome is a candidate for screening.

We’re Here for You

Pancreatic Cancer Purple Ribbon

AltaMed can help with frank discussions about family history and recommend a genetic specialist to test for the markers that may indicate a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Regular checkups are the best way to stay healthy. You can find a doctor at the following link or make an appointment by calling (888) 499-9303.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

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The Value of Preventive Cancer Screenings for Early Detection

If you’re interested in improving your health and taking care of your body, you may already be getting more fit and active, making better choices about your diet, and seeing your doctor for regular checkups. One of the best ways to protect your good health is to follow any recommendations from your doctor for preventive cancer screening tests. 

Why Should I Have Cancer Screenings?

Doctor Doing a Mammography Scan

Cancer screenings help find cancer early, sometimes even before there are symptoms, when it may be easier to treat or cure.

Cancer tests may involve:

  • Physical exams
  • Lab tests (such as blood or urine samples)
  • Imaging procedures (such as MRIs or ultrasounds)
  • Genetic tests

It is important to remember that being referred for a test doesn’t mean that your doctor believes that you have cancer. The tests often help rule out cancer as a possibility. 

When Will My Doctor Recommend Screenings?

Woman on a Doctor's Appointment

Even if you have no symptoms, preventive cancer screenings are recommended if you are at risk for certain cancers.

This may mean that you have:

  • A family history
  • A personal history
  • Certain previously identified genetic signs
  • Previous exposure to cancer-causing substances either through smoking or in your workplace
  • Developed a blood clot without a clear reason

Doctors are also more likely to recommend screenings for older patients, but if you have more risk factors, your doctor may suggest screenings at a younger age than usual.

Types of Screenings

Woman With Doctor in Medical Examination

You doctor may recommend one or more of the following screenings: 

  •  Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy screenings look for early signs of colorectal cancer and are usually performed on people aged 50-75.
  • An X-ray called a low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) is used to screen for lung cancer in those between the ages of 55 – 74 who have a history of heavy smoking.
  • Mammograms screen for breast cancer and have been shown to reduce deaths from the disease for women aged 40-74. 
  • Pap & HPV testing are used for early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Testing typically begins at 21 and ends at 65, provided the woman is at normal risk.

Other screenings outlined by the National Cancer Institute are used to look for:

  • Liver disease (blood test)
  • Genetic mutations that lead to breast cancer (breast MRI)
  • Ovarian cancer (blood test and ultrasound)
  • Abnormalities leading to skin cancer (skin exams)
  • Prostate cancer (blood test)

Early Detection is Key

Woman at Medical Exam

Early detection is the number one goal of these screenings. By finding any abnormalities at their earliest stage, you can reduce the chance of the cancer spreading, and improve the chances of treating or even curing it. 

The best way to stay healthy and make sure you are getting the screenings you need is to get regular health checkups. Depending on your personal and family health histories, your doctor may recommend additional screenings for you.

Contact AltaMed for more information about the health screenings you need at (888) 499-9303

Fried Vegetables

8 Great Reasons to Try Going Meatless

If you’ve been to one of the big fast-food chains lately, you’ve probably seen options for meatless or “imitation meat” hamburgers, tacos, sandwiches, and even meatballs – and you’ve probably wondered how it tastes, and if this new trend is really worth it.

Opinions vary about how much products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger actually taste like the real thing, but we can tell you that going meatless is good for your health and the planet. Learn more about all the benefits you can get by cutting down on meat, even if it’s only a few meals a week.

1. Improve Your Health

Cutting Vegetables

Simply reducing the amount of meat you eat has so many benefits to your health. According to the National Institutes of Health, eating red meat increases your risks for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers, and may even take years off your life. And, if you’re eating less meat and replacing it with healthy fats, fresh seasonal produce, and whole grains, you get even more health-boosting benefits.

2. Helps Protect Our Environment

Hands Holding the World

The farming of animals required to produce meat uses a lot of precious resources, especially water, feed, and land – it takes 450 gallons of water to produce a quarter-pound of beef, and the amount of grain used to feed U.S. livestock animals every year could feed 800 million people. Millions of gallons of pesticides and fertilizers that give off greenhouse gases are used for commercial livestock. Even the United Nations notes that the farming and eating of meat contributes to climate change (global warming).

3. Meat Substitutes Have Come a Long Way

Meat Substitutes

In recent years, plant-based meat alternatives, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have made a huge splash in the market, with both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Both products were created to be more like “real” meat, in terms of taste, texture, aroma, appearance, and juiciness – they’re even plump and pink on the inside when you cook them. Some people love them and think they taste almost identical to meat; others think that, even if the flavor isn’t identical to meat, it’s still delicious and worth eating once or twice a week to benefit their health and the environment.

4. So Many Tasty Options

Almond Cream with Spoon

You don’t need a meat substitute to get your protein and other nutrients. Other ways to go meatless include:

  • Nut butter (peanut butter or almond butter)
  • Legumes
  • Tofu or tempeh
  • Rice and beans (eaten together, they form a complete protein)
  • Quinoa
  • Whey protein shakes
  • Traditional soy- and plant-based veggie patties and products

There are so many high-protein options that even if you’re doing a keto program, you can still plan a few meatless meals.

5. Because Animals

Young Woman Feeding Cows

Most commercially farmed animals (like the kind that end up in fast-food hamburgers and chicken nuggets, and the fresh meat at the supermarket) have short and terrible lives before they are killed. Even products labeled “free-range” or “farm-raised” don’t always guarantee that the animals are treated humanely, and these products are still quite expensive. And at the end of it all, these animals are killed (usually in inhumane ways) for consumption. If you truly love animals, the best way to protect them is to eat fewer of them. It doesn’t mean you need to be a vegetarian or vegan, but every little bit makes a difference.

6. It’s Great for Weight Loss

Steping on a Scale

One of the biggest benefits of eating less meat is that you’re likely to drop a few pounds, too. Compared to fresh produce and grains, meat is dense in calories. If you’re cooking your own meatless meals, you may be more likely to eat a whole-food diet, and less likely to use processed ingredients that are higher in calories. And chances are good that if you’re not eating that hamburger, you won’t be having the French fries or sugary soda that goes with it.

7. It Could Help You Look Younger

Woman Looking Herself in The Mirror

Meats, especially red meats and highly processed lunchmeats, can fire up inflammation in your body, which can lead to less collagen and elastin in your skin. These are two proteins in your body that help make your skin supple, moist, and resilient. Over time, too much inflammation in your body can cause your skin to appear dry and wrinkled.

8. Even a Little Bit Makes a Difference

Healthy Grill

You don’t have to turn completely vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits: Just think about doing a “Meatless Monday” or replacing a couple of meals a week, and you’ll start seeing a difference. Even skipping just half a serving of meat and replacing it with one of the protein-packed options in #4 above can cut your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

You may even save some money, too!

Experts agree that most people get more than enough protein in their diets, so an occasional meatless meal is totally safe. In fact, most people don’t get enough fiber, and could benefit from incorporating more veggie options in their diet. But if you’ve ever been told you are iron-deficient or have anemia, you may want to talk to your doctor first.

If you’re healthy and looking for ways to feel even better, keep checking the AltaMed Health and Wellness page. You’ll find all the news you need to know to stay safe, get in shape, and take care of both your mind and body.

Pancreatic Cancer Affects Fewer but Is Deadlier than Other Cancers