From an interview with
Dr. John Richey
Pee Dee Surgical Group
Pancreatic cancer is considered a ‘rare cancer,’ as it only affects 13 out of 100,000 people in the United States each year. However, when it comes to actual lives affected and lives lost, the annual statistics are sobering. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States for 2024 show that approximately 66,440 people (34,530 men and 31,910 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. About 51,750 people (27,270 men and 24,480 women) will die of the disease.
Dr. John Richey, a surgeon with Pee Dee Surgical Group, shares more about this challenging disease.
What are the warning signs of Pancreatic Cancer?
Because of the location of the pancreas, the warning signs, unfortunately, sometimes come pretty late in the disease course. In certain instances, we are able to identify it early-on if it’s in a certain location that causes a blockage of the bile duct, which results in jaundice. The patient would present to the hospital, and we would be able to identify that there is a mass in the pancreas and start working on a treatment plan.
What other symptoms can be associated with Pancreatic Cancer?
Vague abdominal pain, new onset diabetes, significant unexplained weight loss, are all symptoms of pancreatic cancer. But ultimately, they call it the ‘silent killer’ because the symptoms – aside from jaundice – are oftentimes pretty vague and not immediately identified, and so it can lead to a later diagnosis.
What is the next step after an abnormality of the pancreas is detected?
We have to confirm if the abnormality is cancer or some other problem, and the best way we do that is with our interventional endoscopy team. We have some excellent interventional endoscopists here that can perform an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography), which is usually more therapeutic to unblock the bile duct. Also, by using endoscopic ultrasound, they can really get a good look at the area of concern, and then they can even biopsy it with a small needle. Once we have a diagnosis, we have to ensure that the problem area is confined to the pancreas. If it is, then we start having a discussion about surgical options.
To learn more about treating pancreatic cancer, speak with a surgeon near you.