While pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly because there is no early detection test and only limited treatments, there are symptoms that can signal the disease, a leading pancreatic cancer nonprofit says.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not know what those signs are.
In a recent survey, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) found most adults are unaware of the signs that could help them detect the disease earlier, so the organization is offering a guide to help people become more aware of the symptoms.
The most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer are abdominal or back pain, weight loss or loss of appetite and digestive problems. Other common symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice; an oily or watery stool; and new-onset diabetes.
"Pancreatic cancer symptoms are vague and can be confused with many other abdominal or gastrointestinal issues. Understanding these symptoms along with certain risk factors and your own family history can provide confidence," said PanCAN President and CEO Julie Fleshman.
"We know it can be difficult speaking to your doctor about pancreatic cancer, so we want to empower everyone to be their best health advocate with this new tool," she said in an organization news release.
Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 11%, according to PanCAN. The disease was responsible for the deaths of numerous high-profile people, including Alex Trebek, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steve Jobs and Aretha Franklin.
Despite those high-profile cases, 83% of adults in the survey did not know the signs or symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Older adults were least likely to have that information, which PanCAN called troubling, given that 90% of patients diagnosed with the disease are 55 and older.
An early diagnosis could improve a patient's treatment options, possibly including surgery.
Anyone who experiences symptoms, especially older Americans, can download and bring the PanCAN guide to their health care provider and discuss their concerns, the nonprofit suggested.
PanCAN is sharing stories about pancreatic cancer this month, designated for awareness of the disease. The organization has invested $174 million in research, including $10.5 million this past year. PanCAN's Precision Promise clinical trial seeks to accelerate new treatment options and its Early Detection Initiative works to develop a strategy to diagnose pancreatic cancer early.
The new survey was conducted in online interviews with 1,045 male and female respondents, 18 and older and nationally representative by gender, age, ethnicity and census region between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3.