Battling a silent threat: How pancreatic cancer is rising in India and needs to be treated
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Battling a silent threat: How pancreatic cancer is rising in India and needs to be treated

Sarita, a 52-year-old school teacher and mother from Chennai was known for her vibrant energy. She prided herself on being active, pushing her limits to how much effort she could put in for her students. So, when she started feeling unwell, with symptoms so subtle and non-specific, it was easy for her to overlook them. Later, persistent abdominal pain and an unintentional weight loss raised alarms, leading to a diagnosis that stunned her and her family: early-stage pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Usha Mehta, Consultant in Surgical Oncology at Apollo Cancer Centre, reflects on such cases, “Pancreatic cancer is often silent and deceptive, making early detection extremely challenging. Persistent abdominal symptoms in individuals over 45 should not be ignored and warrant immediate medical evaluation.”

Pancreatic cancer, though relatively rare, is becoming a significant health concern in India. Dr. Mehta sheds light on its prevalence, noting, “While its incidence is lower in India compared to the West, we are witnessing a troubling increase, especially in north eastern regions, largely attributed to lifestyle and dietary habits.”

Monitoring lifestyle and early detection

Dr. Mehta underscores the influence of lifestyle choices on pancreatic cancer risks. “This malignancy is closely linked to tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, and diets rich in processed and red meats,” she explains. These factors are pivotal, transcending geographic boundaries in their impact.

The elusive nature of pancreatic cancer symptoms often leads to delayed diagnoses. Dr. Mehta elaborates, “Symptoms like vague abdominal discomfort and unexplained weight loss are often overlooked. Advanced stages may present with jaundice and liver-related complications.” She emphasizes the need for vigilance and prompt medical attention for persistent symptoms.

Screening for Risk Factors

Dr. Mehta divides the risk factors into two categories: non-modifiable (age, gender, genetic predispositions) and modifiable (lifestyle choices). “Tobacco remains the most significant established risk factor, contributing to a substantial portion of pancreatic cancer cases,” she adds.

Progress in early detection has been modest, with improvements in imaging technologies like high-resolution CT scans, PET CT scanners and MRIs being the most notable. Dr. Mehta advises high-risk individuals, particularly those with a strong family history, to undergo regular screenings.

Preventive Measures and Treatment 

Dr. Mehta advocates for prevention through lifestyle modification. “A balanced diet, physical activity, and smoking cessation can collectively reduce pancreatic cancer risk,” she states. She also highlights the importance of diet, citing lower mortality rates in individuals with minimal meat consumption.

The treatment of pancreatic cancer requires a multifaceted approach. “Surgical intervention remains the cornerstone for curative treatment,” Dr. Mehta asserts. She also mentions the evolving landscape of systemic and intraperitoneal therapies for advanced stages.

For suspected pancreatic cancer, Dr. Mehta recommends consulting experienced oncologic surgeons. She also dispels common myths, such as the misconception that pancreatic cancer is always fatal or that surgery exacerbates its spread.

Addressing the aftermath of treatment, Dr. Mehta reassures, “Most patients adapt well post-surgery, with manageable side effects.” She underscores the importance of regular follow-ups and genetic testing for high-risk individuals.

“Early diagnosis is critical. I urge everyone, especially the younger generation, to adopt healthier lifestyles to combat the rising trend of this formidable cancer,” says Dr. Usha Mehta.

For more details on Pancreatic cancer, please refer https://www.apollohospitals.com/cancer-treatment-centres/cancers/pancreas-cancer/

Dr Usha Mehta

Consultant - Surgical Oncology, Apollo Cancer Centre, Chennai.

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