World Pancreatic Cancer Day 2019: Protecting your Pancreas

by Dr Amit Jotwani

On 21st November, World Pancreatic Cancer Day, let’s look at what practical measures can be taken to reduce our risk of developing pancreatic cancer. We have all heard it said that “prevention is better than cure”. Like all cancers, there are both genetic and lifestyle-based causes of pancreatic cancer.

pancreatic cancer awarenessWhile it is difficult to control the genetic causes that put us at a higher risk of certain cancers, following a healthy lifestyle is a factor that we can control. 

The pancreas is a small spongy organ in your abdomen. It is six to ten inches long. It plays an important role in converting the food we eat into energy for the body. Along with the liver and the gallbladder, it secretes enzymes that help us digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It also secretes two hormones: (1) insulin to reduce blood sugar levels and (2) glucagon, to increase blood sugar levels. Therefore, if the pancreas do not function sufficiently, it affects our ability to digest food, and also affects the level of sugar in our blood.

Pancreatic cancer does not show any symptoms in the early stages. By the time the symptoms start to show, cancer may have developed beyond the pancreas. The most common symptoms include stomach ache, back pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, and jaundice. These symptoms may not be immediately diagnosed as cancer. But if the symptoms persist and the given medication is not effective, it is best to consult a doctor.

Here are some practical steps that can be adapted into our daily routine to reduce our risk of pancreatic cancer:

Stop consumption of tobacco

Smokers are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smokers. Cigarette smoking is responsible for almost 25% of all cases of pancreatic cancer. The use of smokeless tobacco also increases the risk. Of course, if you quit smoking, you not only reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer but also a host of other diseases.

Here are some tips to help you quit smoking.

Avoid intake of alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are considered carcinogens, which means that they may lead to cancer. Heavy alcohol use is implicated in chronic pancreatitis, which may lead to pancreatic cancer. Therefore, reducing the consumption of alcohol results in a lower risk of pancreatic cancer.

Stay physically active

Some studies show that obesity leads to the development of pancreatic cancer at a younger age and also reduces the duration of survival after pancreatic cancer has been diagnosed. Even moderate physical activity reduces the risk of pancreatic cancer. 

Maintain a balanced diet

Research shows an inverse relationship between a healthy diet and the risk for pancreatic cancer. A healthy diet includes a high intake of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, milk and beans. It also suggests a low intake of salt, saturated fats, and sugar. 

Other factors

Some research suggests that there might be a link between excessive consumption of coffee and the development of Pancreatic cancer. However, the research has not been conclusive. 

A healthy diet and lifestyle is the best-known prevention of all of these diseases, and also improves your overall health and quality of life. Here’s where you can know in detail about pancreatic cancer – its causes, risk factors and available treatment options.

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