Shoulder Pain Leads to Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
- A 54-year-old man was experiencing shoulder pain and his doctor prescribed him muscle relaxants. However, scans showed the pain was being caused by a tumor, which turned out to be pancreatic cancer, which had spread beyond the pancreas. He was given radiation as treatment.
- Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include: Pain in the stomach or back, yellowing of skin or eyes, unexplained weight loss, changes in bowel movements, indigestion, fever, and blood clots.
- Other pancreatic cancer treatments include surgery (i.e. surgically removing the pancreas), and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer is given in clinical trials, alongside other treatments, like chemotherapy.
- It’s vitally important to seek a second opinion after a diagnosis; one doctor may see something that a different doctor misses.
The case study was published in American Journal of Gastroenterology, and it explained how “A 54-year-old Caucasian male presented to the emergency department with a chief complaint of progressively worsening left shoulder pain that had been ongoing for the past three weeks.”Read More
After a physical exam, it showed his shoulder also had diminished strenth. An MRI revealed a “vertebral body lesion” (or, a spinal tumor) which was compressing a nerve and leading to the man’s pain.
Following the detection of the tumor, he was given a CT scan and a biopsy, which confirmed he had pancreatic cancer. The cancer had spread to other parts of his body – like his shoulder.
The study reports how “Oncology service was consulted. They felt that he would not benefit from chemotherapy, given the grave diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer.”
The man had palliative radiation to the lesion.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include: Pain in the stomach or back, yellowing of skin or eyes, unexplained weight loss, changes in bowel movements, indigestion, fever, and blood clots.
Challenges to Screening for Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic Cancer Treatments
Radiation, like the type the man received, is one kind of treatment given for pancreatic cancer. Other treatments include surgery (i.e. surgically removing the pancreas), and chemotherapy. There is also immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer, although it’s a less common treatment.
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) details how most immunotherapy drugs for pancreatic cancer are in clinical trials. In these trials, patients are also given other treatments, too, like chemotherapy.
“Up until now, immunotherapy hasn’t had a big role,” Dr. Allyson Ocean, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet in an earlier interview.
Dr. Anirban Maitra, the Co-Leader of the Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot at MD Anderson Cancer Center, says in an earlier interview that detecting pancreatic cancer early – so as to treat it earlier – is crucial. He emphasizes that this is difficult, though, saying, “Because the pancreas is inside the abdomen, it often doesn’t have symptoms that would tell you that something is wrong with your pancreas.”
He continues, “By the time individuals walk into the clinic with symptoms like jaundice, weight loss, back pain, or diabetes, it’s often very late in the stage of the disease… for most individuals, about 80%, will actually present with what we called advanced disease, which means that the cancer has either spread beyond the pancreas or into other organs like the liver, and so you cannot take it out with surgeries.”
MD Anderson’s Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot
Seeking a Second Opinion after Diagnosis
This man’s so-called “muscle spasms” turning out to actually be pancreatic cancer is a good reminder of the importance of seeking multiple opinions. If you are experiencing unexplained pain or unusual symptoms – some of which could be an indicator of cancer – it’s critical to know definitively whether or not you have the disease. In order to achieve this, you should always get multiple opinions on your diagnosis.
Doctors are not always in agreement about whether your symptoms might merit further screening and whether specific treatment methods might work best for you. Sometimes, what your first doctor says might fall short of fact, and a second or third medical professional might be able to catch cancer before it grows and spreads.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute and one of America’s most renowned cancer doctors, agrees. He says, “If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care, because finding a doctor who is up to the latest of information is important,” Rosenberg previously told SurvivorNet. “And it’s always important to get other opinions so that you can make the best decisions for yourself in consultation with your care providers.”