Problematic Pancreatic: What to Know About Pancreatic Cancer

Author: Jennifer Gnerlich, MD, UMC Surgical Oncologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery at LSU Health New Orleans

More people are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer now than ever before. Currently, cancer of the pancreas accounts for 7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. This year, an estimated 53,670 adults will be diagnosed with this disease, and more than 43,000 of them will die. (Source: American Cancer Society)

November kicks off Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month at UMCNO’s Cancer Center, so our staff is working to get the word out about this disease.

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Here is what you should know:

  • Most people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between the ages of 55 years old and 85 years old.
  • Men and women are equally affected by pancreatic cancer.
  • The number one risk factor for pancreatic cancer is smoking and tobacco use.
    • Please call the American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872) if you need help in quitting tobacco use and smoking, or phone us at UMC at (504) 702-5178. 
  • Individuals with BRCA mutations (associated with breast cancer) have an increased risk of pancreas cancer.

There is NO screening test for this disease. You need to be aware of the possible presenting symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • New onset of pain in the upper abdomen/belly or back pain
  • Indigestion or upset stomach not relieved with Tums or Pepcid
  • Pale, smelly, floating, or light colored stools that may look oily in the toilet
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • New diagnosis of diabetes, especially in people over 50 years old
  • New diagnosis of clots in veins or arteries
  • Pancreatitis

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If you have any of these symptoms, please see your primary care physician or contact the Cancer Center Monday through Friday at (504)702-3697 for an appointment.

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Getting checked is important. Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 8%, but with appropriate care that survival can be as high as 27%. Treatment will usually include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Just as every person is unique, so is his/her pancreatic cancer. This is why every patient is discussed at a multi-disciplinary tumor board where a panel of experts in fields such as medicine, radiation, surgery, radiology, and pathology can discuss the case and determine the best treatment for that individual.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or want additional information, please contact the UMCNO Cancer Center as soon as possible.

About Dr. Gnerlich

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Dr. Gnerlich is a board-certified surgical oncologist specializing in upper gastrointestinal cancers in the pancreas, bile ducts, liver, stomach, esophagus and retroperitoneal sarcomas. A fun fact – While Dr. Gnerlich was completing her undergraduate degree, she was scouted to go into professional acting. She loves to run half-marathons, especially at Disney World. Dr. Gnerlich is excited to join the staff at UMC because of the “great team we have here.” She hopes to bring new procedures like HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) to UMC for patients with certain types of cancer that have spread throughout the abdomen.

To make an appointment with Dr. Gnerlich or one of our cancer specialists, please contact (504)702-3697 or (504) 702-5700.

 

 

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Mammo Is Ammo: How Early Screening Saved My Life

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Author: Tamira Armwood, Breast Cancer Survivor, University Medical Center New Orleans

I clung to the words like I do to my rosary when I pray: tightly. What was supposed to be a routine mammogram screening at age 40 turned into a quick discovery of a mass on my right breast. Immediate emotions of fear and worry consumed me. But then a moment of relief came: After the biopsy, we determined the mass was benign.

That was July 2014, but the start of my journey against cancer did not begin until six months later.

Fast-forward to January at my follow-up appointment. My radiologist performed another biopsy, but this time, the results were not so favorable. “Stage 2 Breast Cancer,” she said, which means the cancer inside of me was growing, but still contained in the breast and nearby lymph nodes.

Because of the cancer’s aggression, a treatment plan was immediately created.

I can’t remember any thoughts that weren’t concerned with my own disbelief.

I couldn’t have cancer. I have no family history of it! Did she really just say those words? How am I going to tell my daughters? What if I don’t make it?

I prayed for strength, courage, wisdom, hope and support, and the amount of each of these needs I received from my husband and daughters was nearly two-fold. Like me, they had no certainty of what was going to happen. Unlike me, fear was not their focus but, rather, the fight.

When my treatment plan was established, my breast surgeon informed me I would need a lumpectomy performed to remove the lump from my breast. In addition, I would have to experience 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatment plus 33 days of radiation. The information, tests and costs were overwhelming, but then I meditated on Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to give you hope and a good future.”

What this told me was that I was not near my end.

In my diagnosis, there was hope. After my treatment, there would be a good future.

If there is anything this disease has taught me, it is how to embrace the little things in life.

On this journey, I experienced a great degree of setback: hair loss, excessive weight gain, nail discoloration, lymphedema and periods of extreme fatigue. What I gained, however, was far greater. After my diagnosis, I smiled more. I shared more information with family and, even, strangers. I got excited more. I displayed courage more.

In the most unexpected way, I have become more grateful for the little blessings this experience has given me. It has brought my family closer together, mended broken relationships and been a common cause for which we can all show passion and compassion.

If you are someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, my advice to you is this:

Know there is hope. Stay the course. Stand in Faith. And never quit.

I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but genetic breast cancers only account for about 15%-20% of all breast cancers. That’s why it’s so important to get screened.

Because of this mantra, I preserved through the fight.

Because of my annual mammogram, I became a breast cancer survivor.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story with you.

Tamira Armwood

 

For more information about mammograms at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/mammograms.

 

 

 

Facing Cancer: Head On

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Author: Rohan R. Walvekar, MD, Mervin L. Trail Endowed Chair in Head & Neck Oncology and Director of Salivary Endoscopy Service at University Medical Center New Orleans

When most people hear the word “cancer,” it’s likely that breast, prostate and lung cancers first come to mind.

However, few people realize that head and neck cancer accounts for four percent of all cancers in the United States.

Affecting twice as many men as they do women, head and neck cancers are projected to affect nearly 65,000 people in the world this year alone, killing roughly 14,000 of those afflicted.

Oral and head/neck cancers are unique because they directly affect the organs that allow us to communicate. Often living in the oral cavity of people’s mouths, these forms of cancer can also be found in the tonsils, voice box, throat, tongue or neck – specifically in a person’s lymph nodes. They leave lasting effects on appearance, speech, the sense of smell, eating, swallowing and even breathing.

Tobacco and alcohol are the most common risk factors for these forms of cancer.

Early screening is important before it’s too late.

University Medical Center New Orleans is offering free head and neck screenings on September 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the UMC Conference Center Room J.

If you are unfamiliar with head and neck cancer or want to learn more about the screening process, here’s what you should know:

About Screening

  • UMC is offering free oral cancer screening to the public on September 22.
  • Screening for head and neck cancer takes 1 minute or less.
  • An experienced physician will examine you using a non-painful and effective method for detecting oral cancers. He or she will examine your oral cavity and neck to evaluate and diagnose abnormal lesions of the mouth, neck, thyroid and salivary glands.
  • Oral screenings are NOT dental screenings.
  • If you are experiencing problems with your voice box or throat, a UMC physician will happily discuss these concerns in-person at the screening and then set up an appropriate follow-up appointment with our hospital’s ENT Clinic.

Why It’s Important

  • If detected early, cancer prognosis in stages 1 and 2 is significantly better than that of later cancer stages (stages 3-4).
  • Treatment can be administered with limited consequences to function.
    • Smaller and more functional operations (surgery or radiation) are possible; recovery times are much faster.
    • For late stage tumors, multiple treatment modalities have to be included (surgery + radiation + chemotherapy). Prognosis can be poor and recovery time often takes longer.
    • In later stages, there is a higher recurrence rate, longer rehabilitation and, often, permanent impact on function. This is when the need for a permanent tracheotomy, a feeding tube or disfiguring surgery comes into play.

How to Know if You Should Get Checked

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is best that you get screened:

  • Ulcer or growth or discoloration in the mouth that may not have gone away with treatment
  • Neck lump or mass (suggestive of spread to the lymph nodes in the neck)
  • Pain in the ear (with no prior ear disease)
  • Difficulty swallowing or changes in voice

How to Register for your Free Screening

Walk-ins are welcome, but we encourage you to pre-register using the form here on our website.

For more information on head and neck cancer types, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, please visit the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance online.

Breast Cancer: Survivorship Begins at Diagnosis

Support Group

Delia Young, RN
Nurse Navigator

UMC Cancer Center

Each year, 1 in 8 women in the United States will hear the devastating news that they have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer is frightening for anyone. For women faced with breast cancer, the diagnosis is wrapped in a tangle of emotions and questions:

How will I get through this? Will it impact my family? Will it affect my relationships? Will I survive?

Steps to Survivorship

Every woman’s breast cancer journey is unique, but this holds true for all:

Survivorship begins at diagnosis.

From the start, it’s important to consider not only the immediate actions and treatments available, but also a complete plan that encompasses the entire breast cancer journey.

In UMC’s Cancer Center, we work to assist our patients with plans of care to help them navigate through treatment, providing a start- and endpoint and a way to see themselves outside of treatment.

One of the vital steps in survivorship is identifying support systems, whether it’s family members or close friends. Cancer treatments are long and exhausting, and many people need help coping with the process. At the UMC Cancer Center, we advise most patients to join a support group. Research indicates that people who belong to a support group are better able to cope with the stress of their disease. These groups can help patents see how people in similar situations are managing their care and experiences. Support groups can also be empowering because patients can assist someone else along their journey.

>> SUPPORT GROUP – Team Survivors: Breast Edition

Breast cancer survivors and their families are invited to join us for UMC’s supportive care program, Team Survivors: Breast Edition, every first Thursday of the month. Every month, we provide the opportunity to learn, share and discuss the different topics that affect breast cancer survivors. Our next group meeting will be on Monday, September 7, from 12-1 p.m. in the UMC Cancer Center Conference Room.

To RSVP, contact me – Delia Young, at (504) 702-3725 or Delia.Young@LCMChealth.org.

Life Beyond Breast Cancer

It doesn’t stop there. Once treatment has been completed, it’s also important that patients learn what to expect next – whether it’s prolonged side effect management post-treatment or overcoming social barriers to get reacclimated with their normal life routines.

Managing emotional, spiritual and physical health is essential. This includes healthy lifestyle promotions through diet, exercise, and mind and body relaxation techniques.

Another essential element is to give patients guidance on who they should follow up with and ensure they are set up with primary care providers for normal health maintenance screenings and surveillance.

All of these things provide a layer of support that helps to make breast cancer a little less scary.

A diagnosis isn’t the end.

There is life beyond this diagnosis and many avenues that lead to survivorship from breast cancer or any cancer.

>> FREE SEMINAR: A UMC Town Hall on Breast Health and Cancer

Please join us on September 16 for a FREE Town Hall on Breast Health & Cancer, taking place from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the UMC Cancer Center. Come to this FREE event to discover the comprehensive services that UMC provides for breast health, meet experts in the field of breast health, learn about the latest diagnostic and treatment options, hear stories of survivorship and gain insights on the role that diet, exercise and nutrition play and much more!

Click here to register.