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Pancreatic cancer rates rising — Healthwatch 16

This year more than 62,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and according to Geisinger, those numbers are on the rise.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer, and it is one of the hardest to diagnose.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 40,000 people in the United States will die from the disease this year.

"It's a cancer which is not a very common cancer by any means, but when we talk about the number of people dying from cancer, it's the fourth-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States," said Dr. Ahmad Hanif, a hematology-oncology associate at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.

Since 2000, pancreatic cancer rates have risen by one percent each year. Dr. Hanif says this cancer is hard to diagnose in its early stages, as there are no specific screening tests, and when it is diagnosed, only about 10 to 15 percent of patients are able to have surgery.

"Because of its location — it's right in the back of the belly — it's difficult to feel it, even when it's advanced. It's almost impossible to feel it on a physical exam. By the time it starts giving patients any symptoms, it's usually too late."

The doctor says it's hard to say what exactly causes pancreatic cancer, but there are risk factors.

"We know that smoking almost doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Being overweight is also a risk factor, and some studies suggest that heavy alcohol use can be a risk factor."

Pancreatic cancer can be a scary diagnosis, but Geisinger doctors work with their patients from diagnosis to treatment to remission.

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