By Dominic D. Gadeka
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and the necessary steps to take when these symptoms start to manifest
Pancreatic cancer is the ninth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the 10th most commonly diagnosed in men.
Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include family history of the disease, age, chronic or hereditary pancreatitis, smoking, obesity and long-standing diabetes.
Symptoms of Pancreatic cancer are often vague. This is because these symptoms could be indication of many different conditions within the abdomen or gastrointestinal tract. These symptoms include pain (usually abdominal or back pain), weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, digestive problems and recent-onset diabetes.
It has been shown that patients whose pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in its early stages have better outcomes due to access to more treatment options, including surgery.
It is therefore important that we be proactive whenever we experience any of its symptoms by speaking to a healthcare professional. Additionally, there is the need to advocate for oneself instead of being passive.
Here are three steps to help you navigate the process of advocating for yourself.
1. Schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist who is experienced in diagnosing pancreatic cancer. You may need a referral from your primary care doctor.
2. Prepare for your appointment.
Document the symptoms you are experiencing, as well as specific details to help your doctor understand more about your situation.
These may include when each symptom started and how long it lasted, nausea (how often and when it occurs most), pain (location, whether it is a sharp or dull pain, whether it spreads out or localized, its severity etc), changes in stool (diarrhea, constipation and how long it persists), , weight changes, foods you are eating and any other symptoms that you may be experiencing which may not be related to pancreatic cancer.
3. If necessary, advocate for yourself and get a second opinion.
You have the right to seek a second opinion. This will help you to confirm or rule out a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Let self-advocacy be a part of your regular healthcare routine. This is very important. So be proactive, be curious and take an active role in your own care.