Behind the Science

6 Top Myths About Pancreatic Cancer

By Dr. George Daneker

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Although it’s estimated that more than 53,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016, many people are misinformed about the disease. In honor of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve debunked the top six pancreatic cancer myths.

Myth #1 – Pancreatic cancer is always deadly.

Contrary to what some believe, pancreatic cancers can be treatable. Early detection of the disease greatly contributes to the likelihood of successful treatment. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment has been known to be most successful. In addition to pancreatic cancer treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy, new clinical trials are being conducted every day to help combat advanced-stage disease.

Myth #2 – There are pancreatic cancer screening tests readily available.

Where other cancer types may be detected using blood and imaging tests, there is currently no screening test used to detect pancreatic cancer. However, if pancreatic cancer is suspected, laboratory tests can be used to check for tumor-associated antigens, such as an elevated CA 19-9 (carbohydrate antigen 19-9) level. Billirubin levels may also be checked, as high levels can indicate blocked bile ducts.

Myth #3 – There is only one kind of pancreatic cancer.

95 percent of pancreatic cancer begins in the exocrine cells of the pancreas, also known as adenocarcinoma. However, there is a rare type of pancreatic cancer that develops from the endocrine gland, known as islet-cell pancreatic cancer. Cancer stemming from an endocrine tumor affects the hormone-producing cells. Yet, these tumors are often benign.

Myth #4 – Pancreatic cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy could be harmful to others.

If a pancreatic cancer patient is undergoing radiation therapy, he/she may worry about the risk to others around them. The types of radiation therapy commonly given to pancreatic cancer patients do not cause a person to become radioactive, and are not a health risk to others. Nevertheless, cancer patients who are given radioactive iodine should follow safety precautions given by their doctor.

Myth #5 – Surgery for pancreatic cancer can cause it to spread to other parts of the body.

This myth often applies to other cancers as well, and is rooted in the belief that cancer will spread if it’s exposed to air during surgery. There is no evidence to back up this claim. Metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells spread from the site of the original tumor to one or more places in the body. During surgery, a doctor may find more cancer than was originally expected, but it’s not because of the surgery itself.

Myth #6 – People only get pancreatic cancer if there is a family history of the disease.

Only about 10 percent of pancreatic cancers are thought to be hereditary. There are certain genetic mutations that are passed on from parents to their children that increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The other 90 percent of pancreatic cancers are due to factors including age, gender, smoking cigarettes, and certain health conditions such as diabetes. Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor, but having a risk factor does not necessarily mean that you will get cancer.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer.

Sources:
https://www.pancan.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-GAA-PC-Facts.pdf

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