Pancreatic Cancer Disproportionately Affects Blacks

While there is no proven way to prevent the disease, there are ways to lessen your risk.

Posted: 10/07/2011 10:48 AM EDT

The shocking news that Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs had succumbed to pancreatic cancer gripped the nation on Wednesday evening. Jobs’ death brought international attention to the disease, and that could be a good thing for the Black community. According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer disproportionately affects African-Americans, which has prompted doctors to speak out.

 

Dr. Tyeese Gaines writes to The Grio:

 

“The survival rate of pancreatic cancer is dismal to begin with. Only 1 of 4 people with pancreatic cancer survive one year past diagnosis. Five years out, only 1 of every 20 are still alive. And, the Black community is harder hit.

 

Black men and women are more likely to develop this relatively rare cancer than other groups, with Black men having the worst survival rate (Surprisingly, for unknown reasons, the survival rate of Black women is the same as white men and women). Despite its impact, few have ever heard about the disease prior to Jobs' death.”

 

The NCI reports that more than 40,000 men and women were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. That same year, nearly 37,000 died. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 72. The pancreas produces digestive juices that help break down food and hormones that help regulate blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer death because it is seldom detected in its early stages, and signs and symptoms may not appear until the cancer has advanced and surgical removal isn't possible.

 

(Click here to read more about symptoms, causes and treatment options)

 

There is no proven way to prevent pancreatic cancer, but the Mayo Clinic has provided some steps you can take to reduce your risk.

 

1.       Quit smoking. If you smoke, quit. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you stop, including support groups, medications and nicotine replacement therapy. If you don't smoke, don't start.

 

2.       Maintain a healthy weight. If you currently have a healthy weight, work to maintain it. If you need to lose weight, aim for a slow, steady weight loss — 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 or 1 kilogram) a week. Combine daily exercise with a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains with smaller portions to help you lose weight.

 

3.       Exercise most days of the week. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you're not used to exercising, start out slowly and work up to your goal.

 

4.       Choose a healthy diet. A diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains may help reduce your risk of cancer.

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