A powerful month for pancreatic cancer patients and survivors

November is not only a month filled with seasonal changes and appreciation for the holidays, but it also serves as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. This month provides resources for pancreatic cancer patients and fundraisers for those who are interested in raising awareness. 

According to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, more than 57,000 United States citizens are expected to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the end of 2020. Pancreatic cancer has affected some of the most influential and well-known figures this year, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former associate justice of the United States Supreme Court who died Sept. 18, and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, who died Nov. 8.

American Cancer Society communications director Brittany Conklin said pancreatic cancer is hard to find early and can be deadly if not treated in time. 

“The pancreas is deep inside the body, so early tumors can’t be seen or felt by health care providers during routine physical exams,” Conklin said in an email interview. “Early pancreatic cancers often do not cause any signs or symptoms. By the time they do cause symptoms, they have often already spread outside the pancreas.” 

Conklin said an estimated 1,190 Arizonans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and roughly 1,070 will die from the disease. She said the American Cancer Society encourages young people to visit its website to learn about the types of pancreatic cancer, what risk factors are, how to prevent a diagnosis and what signs and symptoms are so pancreatic cancer can potentially be caught in early stages.

According to the American Cancer Society’s website, exocrine cancers are the most common type of pancreatic cancer. Exocrine cancer is an illness in which cancer cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. 

Although adolescents are the least likely to develop pancreatic cancer, NAU students can stay informed on how to reduce their chances of being diagnosed. Risk factors that have been linked to pancreatic cancer studies include drinking alcohol, smoking and excessive consumption of red meats and sugary drinks.  

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website has a section that covers the signs and symptoms one might have from pancreatic cancer. 

Richard Posner, lecturer in the NAU Department of Biological Sciences, said pancreatic cancer symptoms aren’t always clearly defined. 

“Symptoms for pancreatic [cancer] generally do not appear until after the cancer has spread and are not specific,”  Posner said in an email interview. “They include abdominal and back pain, weight loss, diabetes, nausea and vomiting.” 

American Cancer Society lists additional risk factors that can cause pancreatic cancer, which include a person’s family history, diet, gender and age. Additional signs that could be indicative of pancreatic cancer include blood clots and loss of appetite. 

According to health care company UnityPoint Health, pancreatic cancer is fourth on the top five most dangerous cancers list for both men and women. 

NAU students can get involved in spreading awareness this month by wearing purple and donating to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Donations will be used to improve lives impacted by pancreatic cancer by advocating for patients and advancing research in hope of finding a cure. 

Another way to get involved is by participating in the year-round fundraising event, PurpleStride. Though this event is on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one can still register and participate online for free. PurpleStride has a virtual event in almost every state and Virtual PurpleStride Phoenix 2021 will be held April 10. Everyone who registers for the event will have the opportunity to create a team, fundraise and donate, while those who raise $25 or more will receive a PurpleStride T-shirt. Pancreatic cancer survivors who are registered for PurpleStride are eligible to receive a special survivor T-shirt.

PurpleStride caters to all families and friends when a person registers to participate in the event. When registering through PurpleStride’s website, it asks participants why they are interested in being involved with the movement. The PurpleStride movement funds programs and services for patients who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

Nicolette Teufel-Shone, NAU’s associate director of the Center for Health Equity Research, said oftentimes families of patients help fundraise and donate to these types of research funds and charities.

“Patients’ families often raise money and their families will sometimes remain involved even after their loved ones pass away,”  Teufel-Shone said in an email interview.

Pancreatic cancer has taken the lives of family members and friends. This month gives NAU students the opportunity to learn about pancreatic cancer and the signs and symptoms that might come with it. Everyone can get involved by wearing purple, donating to charity organizations and participating in virtual events like PurpleStride Phoenix.