LiveSmart: November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

[This piece was written by Jason Heckman, MD and Rebecca Keim, MD; Hepatobiliary, Pancreatic & General Surgeons; St. Peter’s Hospital Advanced Endoscopy & Hepatobiliary Center.]

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, which makes it an ideal time to discuss the importance of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of pancreas cancer.

Though the pancreas is a small organ, a mere six inches long, it plays a vital role in our bodies. Located behind the stomach and in front of the spine, the pancreas has two primary functions: production of digestive enzymes to break down food, and production of hormones, like insulin, to help control blood sugar.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 43,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreas cancer this year. It is the fourth leading cause of all cancer deaths.

According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreas cancer is more common in persons who:

  • Smoke
  • Have a family history of pancreas cancer
  • Have diabetes
  • Are obese

Early stage pancreas cancer usually has few or no warning signs. Be alert for recurrent symptoms such as:

  • Jaundice (a yellow color in the skin, mucous membranes, or white part of the eyes) and itching of the skin
  • Dark urine and clay-colored stools
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe pain or discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen or upper back
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • New-onset diabetes

Pancreas cancer is usually diagnosed with imaging studies (MRI or a CT scan) after the onset of symptoms. Advanced endoscopic techniques are then used to further evaluate and obtain biopsies of the pancreas. When pancreas cancer is caught in its earliest stages, surgery, combined with multi-modality therapy including chemotherapy and radiation, offers the best chance of long-term survival.

St. Peter’s Hospital Advanced Endoscopy & Hepatobiliary Center offers access to the latest, advanced diagnostic and treatment options for pancreas cancer. Our physicians take a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, working together as a team of specialists from oncology, surgery, radiation oncology, radiology, interventional radiology, pathology, and gastroenterology. This integrated approach allows us to devise the best treatment plan for each patient and deliver high-quality, seamless care.

St. Peter’s Hospital is ranked “High Performing” by U.S. News & World Report in the Gastroenterology and GI Surgery specialty area. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained pancreatic surgeons perform the third-highest volume of pancreas surgeries in all of New York state.

For more information on pancreas cancer and the treatment options available, visit or contact the St. Peter’s Hospital Advanced Endoscopy & Hepatobiliary Center at (877) 525-2227.

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