November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

While there is no one definite cause of pancreatic cancer, there are definitely some factors that are implicated in its development.

Pancreatic cancer is fundamentally a disease caused by DNA mutations. The mutations can be inherited, although that does not mean that everyone with the inherited predispositions will get cancer. The second way we can develop pancreatic cancer is by damaging our DNA with our behavior such as cigarette smoking. The third way our DNA is damaged is by chance.

The toxins in the environment and the trillions of times our cells divide can interact, leading to DNA damage and cancer. Try to keep your environment as clean as possible and do a nutritional cleanse every once in a while.

Cigarette smoking doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer. Smoking is also associated with early age at diagnosis. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of pancreatic cancer — some experts have estimated that one in four cases of pancreatic cancer are caused by smoking cigarettes. The risk of development of pancreatic cancer increases with age. In fact, more than 80 percent of cases develop between the ages of 60 and 80.

Pancreatic cancer is more common in African Americans, as well as more common in men than in women. Experts also note that more men than women smoke. Another group that has higher incidence of pancreatic cancer is Ashkenazi Jewish people, again because of a genetic predisposition.

Other factors linked to pancreatic cancer are chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, obesity and diet. Diets high in meat, cholesterol, fried food and nitrosamines (such as those found in lunch meat and bacon) increase the risk, whereas diets high in fruit and veggies reduce the risk. Folate (found in leafy green) may be protective.

Some of the common symptoms of pancreatic cancer are weight loss, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, a diminished appetite, back pain, loss and wasting of muscle mass, the chills, cramping, depression, fatigue, fever, itchiness, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and the skin), stool discoloration and urine discoloration.

Usually by the time a patient is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the disease is already in an advanced stage and for that reason many patients are not candidates for surgical treatment. Surgery is sometimes suggested as a way of making the patient’s quality of life better in the later stages of the disease. And if the cancer is caught soon, it can be a potentially curative procedure.

Experts at the John Hopkins Center note that if the cancer is localized, it can be removed, and hopefully it will not have spread to other tissues.

Sometimes the cancer will have spread to lymph nodes, or to the liver or the lungs. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, then the surgery may still be successful. If the cancer is found in distant lymph nodes or other organs or blood vessels, surgical resection is not an option.

As with most diseases, it is important to do your best to avoid the causes as much as you can.

Although genetics play a part in the development of many diseases, there is no denying that lifestyle is in most cases what tips the balance. If you smoke — quit. There is no good reason to smoke.

If you eat meats treated with known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), such as nitrosamines found in lunch meat, smoked meat and bacon — quit. These “foods” should not be in your diet. Exercise, eat clean, hang out with happy, positive people and be well!


Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at, 212-1451 or


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