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Spotting the symptoms of pancreatic cancer

The month of November marks World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, with local charity Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Gibraltar holding a campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and the charity submitted this article to inform the public on the symptoms.

Founded by pancreatic cancer survivor, Louis Baldachino, the charity Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Gibraltar Charitable Trust is determined to save lives and improve the quality of survival for all those affected by pancreatic cancer in Gibraltar by focusing on early diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer is the UK's fifth biggest cancer killer. Currently, less than seven per cent of those diagnosed survive beyond five years. However, for those diagnosed in time for surgery, their chance of surviving beyond five years increases to 30 per cent.

By familiarising yourself with the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer, you will be able to identify if you need to see a GP, which could potentially save your live.

Spotting the symptoms
These early symptoms can be quite vague and often confused with other common conditions and diseases/illnesses. This is why it is so crucial in spotting them and talking to a GP about them.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
Unexplained weight loss
This is often one of the first problems patients tell their doctors about. Weight loss over a 6 to 12 month period is cause for concern if you do not know why it has happened.

The most obvious sign of jaundice is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; Jaundice may also cause your urine to be dark yellow and/or itching of the skin.

Upper abdominal pain or discomfort
Abdominal pain or discomfort is one of the most common symptoms and one of the first symptoms to often present itself. Having abdominal pain or discomfort is a common symptom for many diseases and does not mean you have pancreatic cancer. However, if this is new and unusual for you or combined with other symptoms you should visit your GP to check.

New-onset diabetes
If your type 2 diabetes has developed recently and cannot be explained by your lifestyle or diet (you are not overweight), it can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer patients have reported developing diabetes up to two years before pancreatic cancer was diagnosed.

Most people experience indigestion from time to time and it is not something to worry about. However, if indigestion continues despite treatment from a pharmacy or your GP it could be a sign of pancreatic cancer.

Mid back pain or discomfort
Back pain is experienced by many people and having mid-back pain does not mean you have pancreatic cancer. However, if you are experiencing mid back pain (in the region just below your shoulder blades) that is not normal for you, there is no harm in checking with your GP – especially if you are experiencing any of the other symptoms.

Altered bowel movements
People with pancreatic cancer often experience constipation or diarrhea. Stools can also be large, pale, smelly and float. This is because there is too much fat in the stool as food is not digested properly.
As important as symptoms are we must also take care our our bodies and know what factors increase the risk in developing this horrible disease. Although the exact causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, there are five factors that can increase someone's risk of developing it:
Peak incidence is in the 65-75 year age group but pancreatic cancer can occur from the age of 20, with rates rising significantly from 45 years.

Studies estimate that 29 per cent of pancreatic cancer cases are attributable to smoking. Five years after stopping smoking, this risk may be reduced to that of a non-smoker.

Chronic pancreatitis
It is estimated that one per cent of pancreatic cancer cases are linked to chronic pancreatitis.

Studies showed that people with type I (insulin dependent) and early- onset diabetes have double the risk of pancreatic cancer, while those recently diagnosed with type II diabetes have a 50 per cent greater risk than those who have diabetes for five years or longer.

Studies estimate that around 12 per cent of all pancreatic cancers are attributable to being overweight or obese.
Amongst other initiatives, as part of the Charity’s campaign, Moorish Castle will be lit in purple today, Monday 16th until Sunday 22nd. Also, this year we are promoting to “Wear Purple” on Thursday 19th November - World Pancreatic Cancer Day. We have already received a wonderful response from many work places and schools and we are hoping for a successful campaign.

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