Being Mindful from Sneaky Cancer Symptoms
- A Virginia woman, 79, diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, experienced severe itchiness – a symptom of pancreatic cancer – but has since undergone genetic testing and effective chemotherapy for treatment.
- Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the pancreas. It is more challenging to treat because symptoms usually don’t present themselves until the cancer has spread or metastasized. Symptoms may include weight gain, back pain, and jaundice.
- Jaundice causes the skin and eyes to appear yellow because of a buildup of bilirubin. It can also cause itchiness, dark urine, and light-colored stools.
- Treatment options for pancreatic cancer may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.
- Genetic testing can help you understand your cancer risk. It’s beneficial if you have a family history of cancer or are already diagnosed with cancer. Genetic testing of cancer tumors can help doctors better understand how the tumor functions and the best treatment option for it.
A Virginia woman, 79, who couldn’t rid herself of a nagging itch that continuously disrupted her sleep was surprised to learn what was causing her discomfort. Barbara Green was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, which usually comes with a relatively short survival rate. Still, she continues to defy the odds, surpassing her doctor’s initial expectations she’d live only for a few months.
“I had no idea there was anything wrong with me. I thought I was perfectly fine,” Green told “Today.”Read More
“Everybody else seems to realize that pancreatic cancer is deadly. I didn’t even know that,” Green said.
Pancreatic cancer begins in the pancreas and is known as the “silent disease.”
Symptoms of the disease rarely show up until it has advanced and metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.
Although pancreatic cancer survival rates have been improving, it’s still considered to be largely incurable. An exception to this is if the tumor is still small enough and localized enough to be operated on.
WATCH: Pancreatic cancer and early detection.
The National Cancer Institute identifies pancreatic cancer symptoms to include:
- Dark urine
- Pain in the abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Light-colored stools
- Loss of appetite and fatigue
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.
Green says she underwent chemotherapy after undergoing genetic testing to understand her tumor better and find an effective way to treat it. She said the cancer had “shrunk so small that it was barely visible on a scan” last month. She’s doing maintenance therapy for ongoing treatment.
Resilient Pancreatic Cancer Journeys
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- ‘You Do Not Have Cancer’: Two-Time Pancreatic Cancer Survivor and Author Remembers the Words That Changed Her Life
- ‘It’s Warmin’ Up!!!’ Maria Menounos, 43, Sunbathes In Barely-There Bikini And Looks FABULOUS After Beating Cancer
How Genetic Testing Helped Green’s Treatment
Genetic testing can help you understand your cancer risk. It’s beneficial if you have a family history of cancer or are already diagnosed with cancer. Genetic testing of cancer tumors can help doctors better understand how the tumor functions and the best treatment option for it.
WATCH: Understanding genetic testing.
“If somebody in your family is found to have a genetic predisposition to cancer, whether it be breast cancer or any other type of cancer, the first step is to start testing relatives most closely related to you,” Rachel Webster, a genetic counselor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet.
“Those relatives might be brothers, sisters, parents, children. Those first-degree relatives are the ones that are at the highest probability of having that same genetic predisposition,” Webster adds.
Genetic counselors can help you through the process, akin to a simple blood test or a saliva sample.
The Connection Between Itchiness and Pancreatic Cancer
Research published in the European Journal of Cancer Care notes that “Patients who have pancreatic cancer with unrelieved jaundice often say the itching is the worst symptom.”
Jaundice causes the skin and eyes to appear yellow, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network explains, because of a buildup of bilirubin. “Bilirubin builds up when there’s something, like a pancreatic tumor, blocking the liver from releasing the bile in a process called obstructive jaundice,” PanCAN adds.
Jaundice can cause itchiness, dark urine, and light-colored stools, as Green experienced.
When patients experience these symptoms, doctors may prescribe “Chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, and Choleystiramine, which binds bile salts in the bowel and helps to facilitate their excretion,” says Lorraine Bosonnet, the leading researcher on “Pruritis: Scratching the Surface” that was published in European Journal of Cancer Care.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you are facing a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, you may have questions but are unsure how to get the answers you need. SurvivorNet suggests asking your doctor the following to kickstart your journey to more solid answers.
- What type of pancreatic cancer do I have?
- Has my cancer spread beyond my pancreas? If so, where has it spread, and what is the stage of the disease?
- What is my prognosis?
- What are my treatment options?
- What side effects should I expect after undergoing treatment?
- Will insurance cover my recommended treatment?