Pancreatic Cancer, the Silent Disease
A MedicineNet doctor-editor's perspective on his own struggle with pancreatic cancer
Medical Author: Dennis Lee, MD
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on May 25 of this year. On a routine yearly blood test, I was found to have slightly elevated blood levels of liver enzymes (my alkaline phosphatase, ALT, and ASTwere mildly elevated). Since I had no symptoms of abdominal painor weight loss, both my doctor and I felt quite confident that these liver abnormalities were merely due to the statin that I was taking to lower cholesterol. For the sake of completeness, my doctor ordered a liver ultrasound, which showed multiple liver tumors. A subsequent CAT scan of the abdomen done that same afternoon showed an orange-sized mass in the tail of my pancreas with multiple metastases (spread of tumor) in the liver. A liver biopsyconfirmed that it was pancreatic cancer.
It was a shock
At the time of my diagnosis, I was a healthy, reasonably fit, 57-year-old newlywed working as a gastroenterologist in a thriving medical practice in South Orange County. My wife and I just bought a new home and were in the process of decorating it and putting in the landscaping.
I have no risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer. I do not drink alcohol, and do not smoke(smoking cigarettes is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer). None of my parents and relatives had pancreatic cancer. I never had diabetes mellitus(diabetes mellitus is another known risk factor). I exercisevigorously almost daily (four days per week of tennis, and one to two days of strength training). I maintained a healthy weight (obesityis also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer).