HELENA — November is pancreatic cancer awareness month. The month is meant to bring awareness to the specific type of cancer in hopes of increasing early detection and treatment.
“And pancreatic cancer really can have a significant impact on people's lives. So, it's important to talk about it and to share some facts and to have people reach out to their providers if it's something that they're concerned about,” says Section Supervisor of the Montana Cancer Control Programs at DPHHS, Leah Merchant.
Every year in Montana there are approximately 180 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 150 deaths. Tobacco use, obesity, and a history of diabetes increase the risk of getting pancreatic cancer.
The cancer is more common in men than in women.
Earlier this year, Missoula’s 50th and longest-serving mayor, John Engen, passed away due to pancreatic cancer.
Early detection of pancreatic cancer can save lives because treatment after a late-stage diagnosis can be difficult. This November, practitioners are encouraging folks to talk with their doctors if symptoms arise.
“Unfortunately, there's not necessarily established screening like colonoscopies for colon cancer or mammograms for breast cancer. But it is important for patients and their primary care doctors to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms,” says Medical Director of Cancer Care at St. Peter’s Health, Dr. Elizabeth Bigger.
Those signs can include stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, mid-back pain, indigestion, new-onset diabetes, and more. Some types of pancreatic cancers can also be genetic.
“So, awareness is key. Early detection and diagnosis is key. And early treatment is key, as well, to try to improve our outcomes and increase the number of people who are cured of this disease,” says Bigger.