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Early detection can make all the difference with pancreatic cancer

Doctors say early detection for pancreatic cancer can make a big difference 02:31

NEW YORK - Pancreatic cancer continues to have the highest mortality rate of all major cancers, with a five year survival rate of around 10%. 

As CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reports, early detection can make all the difference. 

"I knew something was wrong," said Kelly L. Harris, who retired in early 2021. 

He had an annual physical scheduled shortly after that big moment. Then, a week before the visit, his urine turned extremely dark. 

"I really knew something was wrong," he said. 

Bloodwork showed something off. A CAT scan revealed the truth: Pancreatic cancer. 

Harris's surgeon, Dr. Elliot Newman, chief of surgical oncology with Northwell Health Cancer Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital, shares curing pancreatic is challenging.

"Most people present with advanced stage disease," Newman said. 

Some signs and symptoms: 

  • Vague abdominal pain
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes
  • Tea colored urine
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Anything persistent that seems off

"There's some information that has evolved in the past couple of years that people have new onset of diabetes have to be worked up and evaluated for the possibility that that might be related to a pancreas cancer," Newman said. 


Newman adds that presenting at an early stage is uncommon - at best, 25% of patients. 

"When we do see people with early stage disease, it's terrific. We can operate. That's our best chance of being cured," Newman said. 

That was exactly the case for Harris.

"He was lucky," Newman said. 

Surgery eliminated the tumor, still 10 months of chemotherapy followed. In November of 2021, Harris had his final round of chemo, and he feels good now.

"I can now run for a bus if I needed to. Back then, no way," Harris said. 

He credits getting this far to those helping along his journey, not just Newman and his oncologist.

"All the nurses, both in the recovery room and during the process of chemo. These people have been marvelous to me," Harris said. 

He said they put him at ease, made him feel safe.

"I can't believe that that has not helped me enormously to get through this," Harris said. 

He urges people:

"If something is wrong... maybe wait a couple of days, but no more. If something is really, clearly wrong, see someone." 

Newman wants all to know it is safe to visit your doctor or the hospital.

"Don't let the fact that we have been through this very challenging time for the last two years get in the way of your own health," Newman said. 

Please step up and secure your healthier future.

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