Maria Menounos diagnosis puts spotlight on pancreatic cancer
(NEW YORK) — TV personality Maria Menounos is opening up about a recent health scare, revealing details of a private battle with pancreatic cancer.
Menounos, 44, told People magazine she began experiencing symptoms including “excruciating abdominal pain” late last year.
When the pain continued after test results came back inconclusive, Menounos said she underwent a whole-body MRI that found a mass on her pancreas.
“I’m like ‘How in the freaking world can I have a brain tumor and pancreatic cancer?'” Menounos told People. “All I could think was that I have a baby coming.”
Menounos announced in February that she and her husband Keven Undergaro are expecting their first child via surrogate. Previously, the couple’s decade-long plans to have a child were put on hold in 2017 when Menounos underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.
Menounos said that after doctors found the mass on her pancreas, a biopsy determined it to be a Stage 2 pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, a type of pancreatic cancer where the tumor forms in the islet cells of the pancreas, according to the National Cancer Institute.
In February, Menounos said she underwent surgery to remove the mass on her pancreas, as well as her spleen, a fibroid and 17 lymph nodes.
“It was super painful,” she said of her recovery from the surgery. “I couldn’t move or lift myself up.”
Because the cancer was caught early, Menounos did not require any chemotherapy and will not need additional treatment, according to People. Her doctor, Dr. Ryan Aronin, and surgeon, Dr. Timothy Donahue, told the outlet Menounos will need annual scans for the next five years.
“I’m so grateful and so lucky,” Menounos said, adding of her daughter, who is due this summer, “God granted me a miracle. I’m going to appreciate having her in my life so much more than I would have before this journey.”
What to know about pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer represents around 3% of new cases of cancer in the United States, but around 8% of cancer deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Most recently, the disease has been in the headlines with the deaths of Alex Trebek, Patrick Swayze and Sex and the City star Willie Garson. All three died of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that develops from two types of cells in the pancreas, a six-inch-long gland that lays between the stomach and spine, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, the type of cancer Menounos said she faced, are less common but have a better prognosis. Cancer in the exocrine cells is usually found at a later stage and therefore typically has a worse prognosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Overall, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just over 12%, according to National Cancer Institute data.
While some pancreatic tumors may not produce any symptoms, others may cause symptoms like diarrhea, pain in the abdomen or back, a lump in the abdomen or yellowing of the skin and eyes, according to the National Cancer Institute.
In many cases, symptoms of pancreatic cancer may not appear until the cancer has spread.
“Part of the reason it tends to be so deadly has to do with anatomy,” ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said in 2020, following Trebek’s death due to pancreatic cancer. “If you look at where the pancreas is located, it sits high up in the abdominal cavity. You can’t palpate it or feel it on a physical exam.”
She continued, “By the time it’s producing symptoms, like yellowness of the skin and eyes or weight loss, it’s generally metastasized or spread to an advanced stage.”
Making pancreatic cancer even more difficult to diagnose is that there is no screening test for it, according to Ashton.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer can include everything from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as new targeted therapies.
Currently, the cause of pancreatic cancer is not known. Risk factors include family history, tobacco use, being overweight, diabetes and more, according to the American Cancer Society.
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