SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Good Things Utah) – Dr. Harkness visited Good Things Utah to tell us more about early diagnosis for pancreatic cancer.

Advances in medicine have led us to a place where cancer is more treatable than ever before, and patients battling cancer can, in many cases, lead long and happy lives. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is a different story, with only 3-6% of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer surviving five years post-diagnosis.

There is good news, though: If diagnosis of pancreatic cancer occurs in time for surgery, the typical survival rate increases 10-fold. “That’s why heightened public awareness, and early detection, are so important,” stresses Optum Utah’s Medical Director, Dr. Gordon Harkness.

Pancreatic cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in America, with 64,000 cases diagnosed annually—a rate of 175 new cases every day. While it’s incredibly prevalent, the exact causes of pancreatic cancer are still not fully known. Dr. Harkness says that having a family history of pancreatic cancer, smoking, poor diet, and age are all possible risk factors, though.


Like many serious conditions, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are varied, and having one or a combination of symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you do have pancreatic cancer. Dr. Harkness says you should keep an eye out for things like:

  • Significant, unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent mid to lower back or abdomen pain
  • Yellowing of the skin

“It’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, especially if you’re in a high-risk group,” Dr. Harkness says.

So how can you protect yourself?

“Overall, living a healthy lifestyle is the best protection, from pancreatic cancer to a number of other ailments.” That’s why, Dr. Harkness says, it’s so important to maintain a close relationship with your doctor. “Focusing on preventative care, doing all you can to stay healthy to begin with, and not just getting better when you’re sick, can make all the difference in the world.”

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Sponsored by Optum.