American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Reducing Your Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Man thinkingPancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer today, is on the rise. In just a few years, pancreatic cancer will most likely surpass breast, prostate and colorectal cancers as the most prevalent cancer in the U.S., behind only lung cancer. At five years after diagnosis, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 6%. But while these numbers look grim, a concerted effort by patients and doctors to detect pancreatic cancer at its earliest stages can have an impact on the power of this disease. Kevin P. Hubbard, DO, an osteopathic internist, hematologist/oncologist, and hospice/palliative medicine physician from Kansas City, Missouri, discusses symptoms to watch for and lifestyle habits that could reduce your chances of developing pancreatic cancer.

Using a whole-person approach to care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to assess the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on your health. They are trained to listen and partner with their patients.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is often called a "silent killer" because it routinely goes undiagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage. According to Dr. Hubbard, this is because symptoms are easily applied to other ailments, such as acid reflux and middle back pain, and also because the pancreas is deep inside the body and not routinely screened. “Because of the location of the pancreas, tumors are often missed until they have grown significantly,” says Dr. Hubbard. Even with all of these challenges, early detection is vital to surviving pancreatic cancer. Dr. Hubbard advises contacting your health care provider if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Jaundice, a yellowish pigmentation of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Chalky, light-colored stool
  • Pain in the abdomen above the navel or back, since the pancreas is near the spine
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

What are the treatment options?

According to Dr. Hubbard, pancreatic cancer, like many cancers, can be treated with one or more treatment options, including surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy; often, two or more treatment options are utilized in combination to offer patients the best treatment available to them. “The treatments can be modified or adjusted to best suit the needs of the individual,” he says.

Protecting yourself 

Dr. Hubbard says there is no one lifestyle change that will prevent pancreatic cancer. “Many people who get pancreatic cancer have no risk factors. However, by exercising moderately and eating a healthy diet, you may be able to reduce your risk,” he says. Another way to reduce your risk is to quit smoking. “Smoking has the greatest impact on developing pancreatic cancer.”

Though pancreatic cancer is a difficult disease to prevent and detect, living a healthy lifestyle and visiting with your doctor regularly are steps you can take now to protect yourself. “It is never too soon to practice a healthier lifestyle that will not only prevent disease, but also improve your everyday quality of life. Making positive lifestyle changes such as not smoking, eating healthier foods, and exercising daily all add up to a healthier life and the chance to lower your risk of developing many diseases, including pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Hubbard.​​​​


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