More than 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic caner this year and more than 80 percent of them will likely die from it.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and Andrea Fujii reports the importance of early detection.
Jim Epperlein, 57, is a pancreatic cancer survivor and he may only be alive today by chance.
“Doctors were looking for something else and discovered a tumor the size of a tennis ball at the head of my pancreas,” said Epperlein.
Less than two weeks later Epperlein had the tumor removed, that was a year and a half ago.
“The scan came back today, everything’s clean,” said Dr. Michael Choti, surgical oncologist.
Doctors credit Epperlein being cancer free to early detection.
“We don’t have as effective form of chemotherapy as we’d like, or other forms of treatment so really the key is early detection and treatment,” said Dr. Choti.
Mammograms help detect breast cancer, but there’s no early detection screening tool for pancreatic cancer. So doctors say look for symptoms like stomach or back aches, weight loss, jaundice, diabetes and most importantly a family history of pancreatic cancer.
“The majority of patients aren’t candidates for surgical treatment that is, it’s already spread by the time it’s diagnosed,” said Dr. Choti.
Since Epperlein’s diagnosis he is helping to spread awareness like at the event Purplestride in Maryland in October.
“If you can save a life, it’s tremendously meaningful and if we can get the word out,” said Epperlein.
Jim’s life won’t ever be the same after his diagnosis, but he says what’s most important is he is still living.
“I now need to take pancreatic enzymes every time I eat, but that’s something I can live with, I’m just happy to be alive” said Epperlein.
There are currently two legislative bills on Capitol Hill to fund pancreatic cancer research and education. For more information on pancreatic cancer, click here.