Skip Navigation

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. Pancreas Image 2

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. 

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

Pancreatic Cancer Chart

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%

Quick Reference

Comprehensive Cancer Center

1st Floor Information Desk
Appointments 336-716-WAKE
Toll-Free 888-716-WAKE

Find a Doctor Ways to Give
Last Updated: 03-02-2016
Wake Forest Baptist Ranked among Nation’s ‘Best Hospitals’  25 Years in a Row by U.S. News & World ReportComprehensive Cancer Centers National Designation is Renewed2017-2018 Best DoctorsNursing Magnet StatusJoint Commission Report

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.

© Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157. All Rights Reserved.