Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month has returned this November with its “Turn it Purple” campaign. While raising awareness is a year round mission for charities such as Pancreatic Cancer Action, November is the month when a light is shone firmly on a disease that sees 9,000 new people diagnosed each year, with a remaining life expectancy of just three to six months on average.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at some of the early symptoms that, if caught, could help to save lives, and some of the preventative measures that can be taken to avoid such an aggressive disease.

What is the pancreas and what does it do?

The pancreas is an organ that plays a vital role in breaking down food by releasing enzymes into the small intestine. The 6-inch long organ also produces hormones such as insulin and glucagon, designed to control blood sugar levels and help the body to use and store energy effectively.

There are two main types of malignant tumour responsible for pancreatic cancer. These are exocrine tumours – accounting for an estimated 90% of sufferers – and endocrine tumours.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and is particularly difficult to diagnose early because the symptoms can be hard to spot. However, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for.

Low mood or depression can be one symptom attributed to pancreatic cancer, as can fatigue and pain during eating. Some of the most common symptoms include indigestion that you can’t get rid of, mid back pain or upper abdominal pain, pale and smelly stools, or painless jaundice.

Causes of pancreatic cancer

While pancreatic cancer can affect almost anyone, it is has been closely linked to ageing, smoking and obesity, as well as a family history of the disease. The most significant risk factor for pancreatic cancer is almost certainly age. From the age of 50 onwards, cases of pancreatic cancer rise sharply, with the average age of sufferers estimated to be 72.

While very little can be done to hold back the effects of ages, the next most common contributing factor can be tackled. Smoking accounts for a third of pancreatic cancer cases and is, in fact, the only confirmed environmental cause of the disease according to research.

To put the risk of smoking into context, a 2006 study looking at the risk of smokers vs non smokers placed the increased risk caused by smoking at 74%. While this is tough news to take for those who have been addicted to smoking for some time, it is important to note that quitting smoking at any point can significantly reduce the risk of dying from pancreatic cancer – and indeed many forms of cancer.

The benefits of kicking the habit increase the longer an individual continues to be smoke free, with some reports suggesting that just 5 years after quitting, the associated risk reduces to the same levels as those who have never smoked.

Of course, smoking is well known for its many risks and there are numerous other diseases and conditions closely linked to tobacco. If you are ready to kick the habit now, Express Pharmacy offers Champix – an effective nicotine-free smoking cessation treatment. Find out more about how Champix can help you kick the habit here.