New York State Department of Health Recognizes National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Department Raises Awareness About Pancreatic Cancer and Ways to Reduce Risk

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 14, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health recognizes National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month by informing New Yorkers about pancreatic cancer, its possible symptoms, and ways to reduce risk for the disease.

"Pancreatic cancer is a tragic diagnosis and a difficult disease to treat, people do have better outcomes if this is caught early, but everyone should know their family history and consider risk factors and ways to prevent the disease," State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Refraining from smoking, eating a balanced diet, becoming more physically active and visiting the doctor regularly can decrease risk."

Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. The risk of developing cancer of the pancreas increases with age. About 90 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are over the age of 55.

Each year in New York State, about 3,600 individuals are diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. Almost 2,800 individuals in New York die from this disease each year. Between 2016 and 2020, pancreatic cancer was among the top five leading causes of cancer deaths in New York State, along with lung cancer, colorectal cancer, female breast cancer, and prostate cancer.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include yellowing of the eyes and skin (called jaundice), pain in the upper abdomen or middle back, light-colored stools, and weight loss for no reason. Since these could also mean other illnesses, pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose at an early stage. Individuals should listen to their bodies and check with their doctor if they have any of those signs and symptoms. Individuals should also be aware of their family history and discuss any concerns with a health care provider.

There are certain factors that increase a person's risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Risk factors include:

  • Smoking. Smoking is the most important risk factor for pancreatic cancer. People who smoke are about twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cancer of the pancreas. Heavy smokers are most at risk. Scientists believe that smoking is responsible for about 20 percent of pancreatic cancers.
  • Overweight or obesity. There is an estimated 20 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer in those with obesity.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop cancer of the pancreas.
  • Hereditary conditions. People with certain inherited conditions due to genetic changes are at increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Scientists believe that as many as 10 percent of pancreatic cancers are due to inherited conditions.
  • Family history. People with close relatives (parents, brothers/sisters, children) who have had cancer of the pancreas are at increased risk for the disease.
  • Personal health history. Individuals with a history of gallbladder disease, pernicious anemia, pancreatitis, peptic ulcer surgery or cystic fibrosis are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Heavy alcohol use.Some studies have shown a link between heavy alcohol use and pancreatic cancer.

The Department continues to encourage New Yorkers to inform themselves about pancreatic cancer, its risk factors, and preventive measures. The Department has also established extensive programs and initiatives to help educate New Yorkers about cancer, as well as provide support to individuals and families who are impacted by the disease.

The New York State Cancer Registry participates in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, End Results and Epidemiology program to collect standardized information on all cancer cases in New York. This information allows researchers, doctors, policy makers, public health professionals, and members of the public to monitor the burden of cancer, evaluate cancer prevention and control programs, and identify focus areas for research and policy development.

The New York State Cancer Registry also actively collaborates on research studies with a goal of improving cancer outcomes and reducing health disparities. In addition, the New York State Cancer Registry participates in the Virtual Pooled Registry- Cancer Linkage System (VPR-CLS) that allows researchers to conduct minimal risk linkage studies with multiple central cancer registries. The New York State Cancer Registry and cancer statistics can be found here.

The New York State Cancer Consortium is a statewide network made up of more than 200 members from the public and private sectors whose missions are aligned with reducing cancer incidence and mortality. Consortium Action Teams come together to address some of New York's highest burden of preventable cancers, including colorectal cancer, cancers caused by the human papilloma virus, lung cancer, skin cancer, and health and wellness issues for New York's many cancer survivors. The Department is an active member, participating in the Consortium's Steering Committee, providing support to the committee and other Consortium work groups, and facilitating the development and evaluation of the New York State Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan.

Enrolling in health care coverage can improve access to medical care and reduce the risk of illness, including cancer. To enroll in health coverage or to find out about financial assistance to lower the cost of health coverage, contact the NY State of Health at 1-855-355-5777 (TTY: 1-800-662-1220) or visit Resources | NY State of Health.

The New York State Cancer Services Program provides breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screenings, and diagnostic services at no cost to individuals who are uninsured or underinsured. To find a nearby screening location, visit New York's Cancer Services Program.

More information on pancreatic cancer, including, prevention, treatment, and resources can be found here.