Over the last few years, awareness of pancreatic cancer has increased, largely due to "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who revealed he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2019. 

Stage 4 pancreatic cancer means the cancer has spread to other organs. At this stage, cancer isn’t curable, but there are still treatment options. Unfortunately, Trebek’s story is not uncommon.

In its early stages, pancreatic cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms, making it harder to detect. And unlike breast or colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer doesn’t have a standard screening exam, which means it’s often found late.

It’s important to pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Pain (usually in the abdomen or back)
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
    • When pancreatic cancer spreads, it often goes to the liver. This can lead to jaundice.

Finding the Right Doctor if the Need Arises

The American Cancer Society estimates the average lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 64. Should the need arise, it’s important to seek out pancreatic cancer specialists, physicians who diagnose and treat a high volume of pancreatic cancer patients. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, care provided by high volume specialists improves patient outcomes.

At the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center, there is a Complex Pancreatic & Liver Cancer Program with a team dedicated to diagnosing and treating this complex disease.

The Long Beach Medical Center team has extensive experience in procedures to treat pancreatic cancer, such as a Whipple procedure. This is a complex procedure that uses minimally invasive techniques that result in less pain, blood loss and scaring, as well as faster recovery times. The Whipple procedure is not performed at many hospitals, but it’s offered by the experts at Long Beach Medical Center.

These complex surgeries are supported by comprehensive technology and treatments, including:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapies
  • Brachytherapy, where a radioactive implant is put inside the body, in or near the tumor