The Stitch

Understanding pancreatic cancer: a Q&A with Dr. Camp

Though pancreatic cancer is rare, it is often a deadly disease. In this Q&A, Dr. E. Ramsay Camp, surgical oncologist at Baylor Medicine, explains what pancreatic cancer is, the risk factors, treatment options and more.

Dr. E. Ramsay Camp studying papers at his desk.Question: What is pancreatic cancer, and why is it considered a significant health concern?

Answer: Pancreatic cancer happens when abnormal cells grow in the pancreas, a vital organ producing digestive enzymes and insulin. This kind of cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage and progresses rapidly, posing challenges in treatment.

Q: How common is pancreatic cancer?

A: Pancreatic cancer is somewhat rare but has a high mortality rate. In 2020, there were 495,000 new cases globally, with more than 466,000 deaths. In the U.S., it ranks as the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. It is also projected to be the second highest cancer-related cause of death in the next decade.

Q: Are there any notable risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer?

A: Yes, several risk factors increase the likelihood, including age, family history, smoking, obesity and certain genetic mutations. Chronic pancreatitis and diabetes also contribute to the risk.

Q: What symptoms should individuals be aware of, and when should they seek medical advice?

A: Symptoms may include jaundice, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain and changes in stool. Acute onset of diabetes, especially in older patients, should also indicate further evaluation. If you experience persistent symptoms, especially if at risk, consult a healthcare professional promptly.

Q: How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed, and what challenges exist in its early detection?

A: Diagnosis involves imaging tests, biopsies and blood tests. Pancreatic cancer poses many challenges and tends to be diagnosed in its later stages due to the initially vague nature of its symptoms and lack of established screening test.

Q: Are there support resources available for individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer?

A: Organizations like the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation provide support, information and resources for patients and families. Seek both medical and emotional support when facing a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Q: Can you shed light on recent advancements in pancreatic cancer research or treatment?

A: Considerable effort is ongoing to investigate better screening tools and more effective therapies. Exciting progress is being made in advancing immunotherapy that works to activate a patient’s own immune cells that can target and destroy tumor cells.

Ongoing research from our group at Baylor College of Medicine is showing promise in immunotherapy, targeted therapies and precision medicine. Early detection methods, like blood tests and advanced imaging, are also being explored.

These steps forward provide real hope for current and future patients with pancreatic cancer.

Learn more about surgery for pancreatic cancer

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

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