Doctor wages war on pancreatic cancer through medicine and hope

Oncologist talks pancreatic cancer
Published: Aug. 7, 2017 at 8:11 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 7, 2017 at 8:28 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - We are using this page on to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and to put local faces to a disease that doesn't get a lot of attention.

Before I became involved with PurpleStride, The Walk to End Pancreatic Cancer, I didn't know much about it. I was shocked to learn that last year, pancreatic cancer surpassed breast cancer and became the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.!

I wanted to talk to an expert about why it's such a tough cancer to treat. I spoke to Dr. Reza Nazemzadeh, a Medical Oncologist at Levine Cancer Institute.

As bleak as a pancreatic cancer diagnosis may seem today, Dr. Nazemzadeh says we must raise our voices, make noise about this disease, and find tools for early detection. Most of all, the doctor says we must continue to Wage Hope with those fighting the disease. I asked the doctor to first explain what the pancreas does for our bodies.

"It makes hormones to control blood sugar, it creates insulin to control our blood sugar, and produces proteins that help us digest food," he explained.

The position of the pancreas makes detection of cancer so difficult.

"The pancreas sits in the center of the abdomen.  It's set towards the back of the abdomen. In fact, some people, because of where the pancreas sits, will have back pain, instead of abdominal pain," Dr. Nazemzadeh told me.

"Pancreatic cancer is unique in the cancer world.  It's a stubborn cancer. It's difficult to get to, it's difficult to detect as well. Unfortunately, most people who are diagnosed with pancreas cancer are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body making the disease incurable."

"Another problem with this disease is it spreads quickly. It spreads more quickly than other cancers. Another problem is detecting it early. Once it forms we have a short window of opportunity to catch it and treat it aggressively before it becomes incurable."

Unfortunately, symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be vague, and mimic some common illnesses. But there are certain things you can watch out for.

"The most common side effect is abdominal pain but we can't to a CT scan, we can't do a CAT scan on every person that has stomach pain.  Weight loss that is unexplained, onset diabetes in an adult, change in bowel habit, these are typical in other diseases. So they don't jump out to the physician or the patient until it's almost too late" according to Dr. Reza, as his patients affectionately call him.

"It can happen to anybody, doesn't matter if you're young old thin or fat it doesn't matter, it can strike at any point."

Money raised at PurpleStride for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network goes to fund patient care, clinical trials, and vital research. What doctors desperately need is a way to detect this aggressive cancer in its early stages.

I asked, "Are we any closer to that? We are getting closer but we have long to go," the doctor said with a hopeful lilt in his voice.

As dire as this cancer can be, Dr. Reza is waging war on this disease. For his patients, he says it starts with this perspective.

"It comes down to HOPE it in my world. You say pancreas cancer immediately engenders fear, lost hope. We can't have that attitude, we need to push we need to be loud, we need raise funding we need to do more we can't give up we can't throw in the towel because it's hard to do that's the key."

"It's awe inspiring. You can't help but be inspired by these people who know they are up against a deadly disease yet they don't give they remain hopeful despite the odds, and they are so grateful and thankful for anything that can be done to help them live another day," Dr. Reza said of his patients.

The has a charge for this charge for his patients.

"Don't give up! Stay hopeful, today we may not have a cure for you but, it doesn't mean we won't have one six months from now, a year from now, two years from now.  Hang in there, fight, keep your spirits up, stay hopeful," Dr. Reza said emphatically.

We hope you'll join the WBTVandMe team for PurpleStride 2017. It's Saturday September 9th at First Ward Park. You don't have to be directly touched by pancreatic cancer to join us. We, as a community, are trying to help support those fighting the disease. We want to raise people's consciousness about a disease that has taken its toll on families. We want to help find a cure!

To learn more about pancreatic cancer visit

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