Many people may have heard about lung cancer, breast cancer or even cervical cancer because these are well publicized in the media.  Less known is pancreatic cancer, which kills thousands of people yearly and recently claimed the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.


While you can find a lump for breast cancer, pancreatic cancer goes undetected for many years.  It affects the pancreas which  is about six inches and located behind the stomach at the rear of the abdomen.  The enzymes from the pancreas aid the digestive system, along with helping to keep blood sugar level balanced.

Pancreatic cancer affects every race but is higher in African Americans.  Often, by the time African Americans are diagnosed, it is at such an advanced stage that not even surgery can help.

Before Jobs became the latest victim of this cancer, actor Patrick Swayze died from the disease.  The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was recently diagnosed with the same disease.

I have had to overcome many obstacles in my life and have experienced things some people won’t in a lifetime and the one that stands out for me is caring for my aunt during her chemotherapy fight against pancreatic cancer. The raw emotions and the memories created during the last days of her hospice care required me to become quickly educated in transitions the body goes through during end of life.

The experience has led me to seek to empower the African-American community about this terminal disease.  According to Dr Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, “African Americans face inequalities in income, education and standard of living, as well as barriers to accessing high-quality health care.”

You are at increased risk of getting pancreatic cancer if you smoke, are diabetic, maintain an unhealthy diet, are obese, have liver problems and/or have a family history. Let’s look at some of the risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer.  First, fast food restaurants are everywhere on every corner.  No wonder many children and adults are obese.  African Americans need to cut back on fast food and get more exercise.

Second, smoking is responsible for up to 30 percent of pancreatic cancer.

If you don’t want to be part of the statistic, quit smoking, lose weight, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and reduce fat in your diet by avoiding things like processed meats such as bacon and bologna.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms may include pain in the upper part of your abdomen that may be felt in your back, jaundice and losing weight.  There are other conditions that may cause the above symptoms so the best thing to do is to see your doctor.

Possible treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, alternative medicine/treatment and clinical trials.

Dr. Diane Simeone, president of the American Pancreatic Association, and Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, founder of the Pancreas Cancer

Vaccine and director of Translational Research at Johns Hopkins University, are playing a part in spreading the word about the potential vaccine to help combat the cancer during the cancer treatment process.  Dr. Bert Vogelstein, also of John Hopkins, is trying to develop a test to detect the disease before an individual has symptoms.  Also, Dr. Ralph Hruban,  from John Hopkins, is working on identifying hereditary causes for the disease. 

Until we find a cure for this horrific disease, you can participate in the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry by completing a questionnaire at http://pathology.jhu.edu/pancreas/nfptr/who.php.

Many events are held worldwide to bring awareness of disease, including one locally.  A VIP Party & Mini Fashion Show will be held at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Mirage Lounge at Quality Inn Sawgrass Center, 1711 N. University Drive, Plantation.  For tickets or more information, visit wornbyacelebrity.com

Bridgette Elliott is CEO of WornByaCelebrity.Com, based in Boca Raton. The firm, which deals in dresses, has linked up with the New York-based  Lustgarten Foundation that is seeking a cure for pancreatic cancer.

Photo: Bridgette Elliott