World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day

Pancreatic cancer

In honor of this date (November 15), I’d like to share some information about the disease.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, killing more people than breast cancer. It’s projected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths by 2020.

Only nine percent of people with pancreatic cancer will live five years beyond diagnosis. In 2018, more than 55,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease and an estimated 44,000 people will die.

Because more people are getting imaging tests such as CT scans, benign and pre-cancerous growths are being found more often. However, most patients are diagnosed when the disease has spread outside of the pancreas and surgery is no longer an option. The chances of survival increase tenfold if a patient is diagnosed in time for surgery.

Several risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer: family history of the disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, smoking, obesity, race, age, and diet.

Common symptoms include abdominal or mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, and new-onset diabetes. Often these symptoms are vague and attributed to other conditions.

For more information, visit the website of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network,




Living Beyond Breast Cancer

breast cancer - Living Beyond

Among the myriad resources available for women with breast cancer, Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) is a winner.

Founded in 1991 by Marisa C. Weiss, MD, a radiation oncologist, the organization offers a library of free guides and booklets, a breast cancer helpline, conferences, live 90-minute panel discussions available in person or online, webinars, and an online writing program to help breast cancer patients express themselves.

In addition, LBBC offers a small quantity of life grants and a nutrition education workshop series for women in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Specialized programs includes those for young women, men, African-Americans, and LGBT people.

Their medical board includes doctors specializing in palliative care, radiation oncology, integrative cancer treatment, and breast cancer research. Other professionals include clinical social workers and professors of family medicine and community health.

LBBC is nationally recognized and relies on volunteers and donors to enable them to offer their services for free.

For more information, visit their website at or find them on social media.



Since it’s breast cancer awareness month, let’s talk about mammograms.


Mammography uses low-energy X-rays to detect breast cancer, typically through detection of characteristic masses or microcalcifications.

About seven percent of women screened have a “false positive” and receive further testing. (I’ve had this twice.) Mammography can also miss cancer and have a “false negative” reading for about ten percent of those screened.

Ultrasound is used for further evaluation of masses found on mammography. Other detection tools include ductography, positron emission mammography (PEM) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Researchers are investigating other procedures, including tomosynthesis.

Digital mammography uses digital receptors and computers instead of X-ray film. The resulting computer-screen images permit more manipulation so radiologists can review the results more clearly. This technology is a spin-off of that developed by NASA for the Hubble Space Telescope.

3D mammography or digital breast tomosynthesis (DBA) creates a 3D image of the breast using X-rays When used in addition to usual mammography, it results in more positive tests, but it more than doubles the radiation exposure.

Mammography can trace its history back to the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895. In the late 1950s, Robert Egan devised a method of screening mammography for the first time. Use of the “Egan technique” spread after a 1966 study demonstrated the impact of mammograms on mortality and treatment.

A 2016 review of the United States Preventative Services Task Force found that mammography results in an eight to thirty-three percent decrease in breast cancer mortality in different age groups. It currently recommends mammography every two years between the ages of 50 and 74.