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During the month of November, a spotlight shines on pancreatic cancer. You might notice some people wearing purple ribbons, the internationally recognized symbol of National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Observed each year, this event is designed to increase the general public’s understanding of the condition, including its prevalence, prevention and treatment, and identify informative and educational resources that can be referenced all year long.

One of the deadliest forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer develops in the pancreas, a glandular organ located deep within the abdomen that produces digestive enzymes to aid digestion and regulate blood sugar levels. When cells in the pancreas undergo changes that cause them to grow and divide very rapidly, they can sometimes amass and form a tumor.

The causes of most pancreatic cancers are unknown, and the symptoms are usually very subtle. However, early detection is vital to achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life. Even so, the results of a recent worldwide study suggest that more than 60 percent of people know next to nothing about pancreatic cancer. The goal of National Pancreatic Awareness Month is to change that – and, in doing so, to save lives.

Because many people do not notice their pancreatic cancer symptoms until the cancer reaches an advanced stage, it’s essential for everyone to learn about the possible signs, and to see a physician if anything out of the ordinary occurs. That’s because many pancreatic cancer symptoms are similar to – and often attributed to – more common, less serious conditions. Some important signs to watch for include:

  • Jaundice – Caused by an elevated level of bilirubin (a yellow pigment) in the blood, this medical condition can produce a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, as well as dark-colored urine and pale-colored stools
  • Abdominal discomfort – Pain can manifest in the upper or middle abdomen or lower back.
  • Gastrointestinal distress – Digestive difficulties, such as indigestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite and feelings of fullness can signal a problem in the pancreas.
  • New-onset diabetes – Prediabetes and diabetes are much more prevalent in people who have pancreatic cancer than in the general population.
  • Weight loss, weakness or fatigue – When any of these symptoms occur for no apparent reason, it’s important to have them checked out by a physician.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we are champions of pancreatic cancer awareness because we believe this vital issue must be heard. We provide unwavering support to everyone who is affected by pancreatic cancer, including our patients and their family members. This November, please join us in elevating this important cause to new heights. Talk with your family members. Tell your friends. And, don a purple ribbon to show the world that you are committed to joining the fight by raising awareness, which can save lives and create a better future for those who are affected by pancreatic cancer.

If you have questions about pancreatic cancer symptoms, you do not need a referral to meet with the outstanding team of experts in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, where we offer a full range of diagnostic tests, treatments and supportive care services in a single, convenient location. To get started, call 1-888-MOFFITT or complete a new patient registration form online.