Facts About Pancreatic Cancer
Just 6 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive after five years, the lowest survival rate among major cancers in the United States.
The reasons largely have to do with the fact that it is difficult to diagnose pancreatic cancer; there are either no symptoms in the early stages of the disease or the symptoms are mistaken for other, more common illnesses.
The pancreas is an organ in the digestive tract whose two major functions are to help break down the fats and proteins in food (exocrine function) so that the body can properly use them and to help make hormones such as insulin (endocrine function) that balance sugar in the body.
Tumors can develop in either of the two types of cells in the pancreas, but the cause of pancreatic cancer remains largely unknown. Scientists have identified risk factors for pancreatic cancer, but they are wide-ranging. They include:
- Age; almost 90 percent of patients are older than 55.
- Men have pancreatic cancer slightly more than women.
- People who smoke are two to three times more likely to get pancreatic cancer.
- People who are obese and those who don't exercise much are more at risk.
- People who have diabetes are more at risk, as are those who have chronic pancreatitis, a long-term inflammation of the pancreas.
- Family history; although pancreatic cancer can run in families, genetic links are just beginning to be identified that could be useful in future diagnoses.
Because symptoms are often not recognized, pancreatic cancer is typically too advanced to eradicate once it is diagnosed. Symptoms can include weight loss, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, back pain and abdominal pain, all of which also can be attributed to other illnesses.
Surgery to remove the tumor is the best treatment for pancreatic cancer, if the cancer is diagnosed early enough. After surgery, patients typically receive chemotherapy, radiation or both. If the tumor cannot be removed with surgery, physicians may try chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of therapies in hopes of killing the cancer cells or slowing heir growth.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Patients and advocates recently got some good news. In September, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act. The legislation would, among other measures, require the National Cancer Institute to create a long-term plan to speed progress and improve outcomes for cancers that are especially deadly, such as pancreatic and lung cancer.
The goal is to create a research plan that would help develop early detection methods and effective treatment options for these difficult cancers.
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the bill when it reconvenes after this month's election.
Two useful websites with more information:
Celebrities and Pancreatic Cancer
Images of the below celebrities are enclosed; 3 of these need images to be attributed to photographer. File name includes attribution.
Sally Ride, astronaut; died Sept. 2012, three months after diagnosis
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, Inc.; diagnosed 2004, died 2011
Patrick Swayze, actor; diagnosed 2008, died 2009
Luciano Pavarotti, opera singer; diagnosed 2006, died 2007
Dizzy Gillespie, trumpeter; died 1993
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice; diagnosed 2010
Cancer Survival Rates
Here are the five-year, overall survival rates of the three most common cancers in this county compared with pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society:
Cancer New annual cases in U.S. 5-year survival rate
Prostate 240,740 Nearly 100%
Breast 229,060 90%
Lung 226,160 16%
Pancreatic 43,920 6%