A Misdiagnosis Of Kidney Stones Saves One Woman's Life
- Kelly Pankratz was just 42 in 2018 when some discomfort prompted her to go see the doctor. She was misdiagnosed with kidney stones but while being scanned for that, doctors uncovered evidence of pancreatic cancer.
- The disease was discovered early enough for Pankratz to beat cancer after having her pancreas removed and undergoing chemotherapy.
- Pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose at an early stage. That is because most patients do not experience any symptoms until the cancer has metastasized to other organs in the body.
That is what one mother-of-two, 42, is calling the kidney stones that led doctors to discover she had pancreatic cancer.Read More
After describing her symptoms, her doctor ordered a scan for kidney stones.
That scan came back with no signs of kidney stones but did reveal a concerning growth on what looked to be Pankratz’s pancreas.
The growth turned out to be pancreatic cancer.
“You go numb,” she tells NBC 15 of the moment she got her diagnosis.
“Everything that you’ve ever heard about it… being one of the worst types of cancers to have. It was instantly like the world stopped suddenly. It was surreal.”
From the start, Pankratz knew that the disease spared few people, but she opted to stay positive no matter how bad her prognosis.
“I really tried to focus on my blessings and trying to feel all the love, my friends and family,” recalls Pankratz. “It’s about the little things.”
Pankratz started treatment soon after her diagnosis, which required surgery to remove her pancreas, followed by chemotherapy.
At the same time, she built up a community of fellow cancer warriors and survivors who helped her navigate through this challenging new world.
Then, one day she went to the doctor, and a scan showed no signs of cancer. The same thing happened the next time and the time after that.
Three years later, Pankratz is still cancer-free and is now doing her part to help new patients navigate as they start their journey.
“It’s changed my life,” she says of her diagnosis. “There are so many things I have done since then that I would not have done.”
Difficulty Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer
Pankratz can thank her “lucky” kidney stones that she discovered she had pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose at an early stage. That is because most patients do not experience any symptoms until the cancer has metastasized to other organs in the body.
And the symptoms could be attributed to a host of other illnesses, as they include:
- Abdominal pain in the lower back
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin
- Yellowing of the eyes (jaundice)
- Lighter-colored stools
- Darker-colored urine
- Itchy skin
- Recent diabetes diagnosis
- Inability to control diabetes
- Blood clots
Pancreatic Cancer Risk
Incidence rates for pancreatic cancer rose by about 1% per year from 2006 to 2015.
“Pancreatic cancer is still uncommon enough that if you were to screen everybody, you would end up with a lot of false positives,” explains Dr. Anirban Maitra, co-leader of the Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shoot at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Even with a fantastic biomarker test that you had, even if it was 99% sensitive and 99% specific, you would still have a lot of false positives.”
That should not deter people from screenings, especially those whose relatives have been diagnosed with the disease.
“If somebody has two first-degree relatives with pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Maitra says, “their risk is already double digits higher than the average population. If they have three family members, it’s almost 34 percent higher than the average risk population.”
The presence of cysts on the pancreas also carries an increased risk of cancer, though those growths are entirely benign in most cases.
Challenges to Screening for Pancreatic Cancer