Purple Stands for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Approximately 53,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year*. By 2030, pancreatic cancer will become the second top cancer killer in the United States followed by lung cancer**.

“Pancreatic cancer is on the rise partly because of the rapidly aging population, but more importantly, due to increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes in our society,” says Hemant Chatrath, M.D., UCLA-trained and board certified interventional gastroenterologist with Digestive Disorders Consultants.

The location of the pancreas, deep inside the abdomen, makes it difficult to see or feel a tumor. This, coupled with a lack of early detection and cost-effective screening tests, make pancreatic cancer a deadly disease.

“Pancreatic cancer is troubling because it’s hard to find early when it’s most treatable,” says Dr. Chatrath. “Patients often don’t experience any symptoms until the cancer has grown significantly and/or spread to lymph nodes and other organs.”

There is no recommended screening tool for people at an average risk for developing pancreatic cancer; however, you are considered high risk for developing the disease if you have a:

  • Family history of pancreatic cancer: two relatives with pancreatic cancer where one member is a first degree relative (mother, father, siblings); three or more relatives in the family with pancreatic cancer; or hereditary pancreatitis.
  • Genetic syndromes such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, Peutz-Jeghers, Lynch and familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM).

For high-risk individuals described above, endoscopic ultrasound or EUS can be used to test for the disease. The minimally invasive procedure uses high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the lining and walls of the pancreas, liver, kidneys and spleen. Similar to an endoscopy, EUS is performed in an outpatient setting and takes approximately 15-20 minutes. If something suspicious is found, a biopsy can be obtained at the time of the examination.

MRI is another screening tool; however, if a mass is discovered, physicians must perform an EUS to obtain a tissue biopsy. Most insurance plans will cover the cost of either screening procedure.

“People at high risk should get screened every year,” says Dr. Chatrath. If found early, surgeons can remove precancerous lesions or early-stage tumors and increase survival rates, but discovering pancreatic cancer later often means a survival rate of less than a year.

Fellowship trained in advanced interventional endoscopy, Dr. Chatrath uses EUS to treat pain from chronic pancreatitis and cancer. He is also able to drain large pancreatic pseudocysts, place metal markers for radiation treatment and perform liver biopsies and many other procedures using EUS. Prior to Dr. Chatrath’s arrival to Hagerstown, people requiring EUS needed to travel outside the area for care.

Some people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer don’t have a genetic link or family history of the disease, but do have risk factors such as obesity, smoking, type 2 diabetes and exposure to certain chemicals. You can lessen your risk of developing many types of cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet, staying away from tobacco and exercising more.

If you think you’re at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer, talk to your primary care physician or see a gastroenterologist. For an appointment with Dr. Chatrath, call Digestive Disorders Consultants at 301-665-4585.

* American Cancer Society

** Cancer Research Journal