Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: How Abdominal Ultrasound Exams Can Help


November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Although this type of cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer in America, it doesn’t get the publicity or have the awareness level of breast cancer. To compound these challenges, pancreatic cancer receives only about one percent of overall cancer research funding.

Role of the pancreas

The pancreas is a vital part of the digestive system. It helps the body use and store energy from food in two ways:

  • Generating enzymes ­— To help to digest foods
  • Producing hormones – Such as insulin and glucagon, which control blood sugar levels

Are you at risk for pancreatic cancer?

Knowing if you’re at risk for pancreatic cancer is critically important, because this cancer can be so difficult to diagnose. The pancreas resides deep in the body. Part of the pancreas sits between the stomach and the spine, and the other part is nested in the curve of the first part of the small intestine. Because of its location, pancreatic tumors cannot be detected by touch. However, screening tests, such as an abdominal ultrasound, can detect early-stage pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer risks range from factors we can control, to those we cannot, including but not limited to:

  • Smoking. The risk of getting pancreatic cancer is about twice as high among smokers compared to those who have never smoked.
  • Obesity. The American Cancer Society states that obese people are about 20 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Age. Although adults of any age can be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the risk increases with age. Most people with pancreatic cancer are age 45 or older.
  • Race or ethnicity. African Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics or Caucasians to develop pancreatic cancer.

 Abdominal ultrasound for pancreatic cancer

Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, can be effective in detecting pancreatic cancer. Ultrasound, CT scans or other tests may be done before and after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer to look for:

  • Suspicious areas that might be cancer
  • Spreading of cancer
  • Effectiveness of treatment
  • Signs of cancer coming back after treatment

During an abdominal ultrasound, a device is placed on the outside of the abdomen and moved around to produce an image of the pancreas and surrounding structures.

If you’re experiencing abdominal pain, loss of appetite, consistent nausea or other symptoms of pancreatic cancer, we’re here for you. Alaska Family Sonograms is Anchorage’s longest-established freestanding ultrasound provider. Our team of expert sonographers has the experience, credentials and compassion to provide excellent care and accurate diagnostic results.

To schedule an appointment, call 907-885-0390, or request an appointment using our online form.