(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- As the nation mourns the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, medical experts say it’s a reminder of pancreatic cancer’s deadly potential.
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the Hirschberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
In 2020 an estimated 57,600 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the U.S., and more than 47,050 will die from the disease, the foundation noted.
“Among the many cancers in the GI cancers, that I see and that I treat, this is one of the most aggressive types of cancers that there is,” said Dr. Ryan Merkow, an oncologist at Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Experts say Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s diagnosis was ideal, in that it was caught early and surgically removed in 2009.
A majority of patients with an early diagnosis can have a five year survival greater than 20 or 30%.
But early detection is incredibly difficult with a majority of patients presenting late-stage symptoms like jaundice and persistent abdominal pain.
“Because of the nature of where the pancreas is in the body, there’s usually no tell tale signs until the disease is more progressed. It can block a bile duct or cause significant pain which would lead to a workup and eventual diagnosis,” said Merkow.
While underlying risk factors are difficult to identify, family history is a good place to start.
“If folks have a family history of pancreas cancer they should communicate that to their primary care physician. If they develop pancreatitis or new onset diabetes later in life those things can be potential risk factors."
Merkow told WBBM he hopes to see new screening technologies developed and implemented in the next decade.