Ever since the passing of beloved Jeopardy! host Alex Trebec last year, pancreatic cancer is something that’s on a lot of our minds. The disease takes almost 50,000 lives in the US each year, but luckily, there are measures you can take to prevent it.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the pancreas, which is a pear-shaped organ that sits just behind the bottom of the stomach. The pancreas is important for a number of bodily functions. It is responsible for our production of hormones like insulin which help the body convert sugar from the foods we eat into energy. It also produces digestive enzymes and fluids that make us able to absorb nutrients from food.
Pancreatic cancer happens when cancerous growths or tumors form in the tissues around the ducts that release digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Unfortunately, the disease is rarely caught early, as often it doesn’t produce noticeable symptoms until it’s spread to other areas of the body.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are some symptoms to look out for when it comes to pancreatic cancer, though. They are:
- Abdominal pain that radiates to your back.
- Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss.
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice).
- Light-colored stools.
- Dark-colored urine.
- Itchy skin.
- New diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that’s becoming more difficult to control.
- Blood clots.
How to Prevent Pancreatic Cancer
As of now, the exact cause of pancreatic cancer isn’t known. However, there are several risk factors for the disease, some of which can be mitigated with dietary and lifestyle interventions. Risk factors of pancreatic cancer include things like history of pancreatic cancer in your family, obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis (or chronic inflammation of the pancreas), smoking, and old age (since most cases are diagnosed in adults over 65).
Below, we’ve rounded up some tips to help you prevent pancreatic cancer before it becomes an issue.
Watch your weight.
Studies have concluded that adipose tissue (or fat tissue) affects insulin and insulin resistance. Just as well, exposure to carcinogens (or cancer-causing compounds) in foods that typically contribute to obesity (like processed sugar) also puts you at a higher risk for the condition. Therefore, keeping your weight within a healthy range through a healthy diet and exercise could help keep your pancreas functioning properly. Which brings us to our next point…
Change your diet.
A pancreas-friendly diet includes a variety of unprocessed, whole foods. You should also limit your intake of fatty foods like red meat, fried foods, fast food, full-fat dairy, and anything with added sugar in it like pastries, cookies, soft drinks, juices, and candy. All of these foods have been associated with an increased risk of obesity as well as pancreatitis.
According to Columbia Surgery, foods that should be included in a pancreas-friendly diet are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nonfat/low fat dairy, and lean cuts of meat. Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds, can also be consumed in limited amounts.
Avoid alcohol and quit smoking.
If you’re a smoker, preventing pancreatic cancer is another great reason to quit. Smoking is a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer. According to experts over at The American Cancer Society, it may be the most important habit to change! If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor about treatment options or call the Cancer Helpline at 1-800-227-2345.
Alcohol consumption has also been negatively associated with pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer risk. To cut your risk, experts recommend avoiding alcohol completely. If you can’t do that, try to limit your intake to one drink per day.
There you have it. Making these changes can not only protect one of your body’s most vital organs, but they will also promote good overall health for years to come.
Here’s to a long, healthy life!