Positioned behind the stomach, the role of the pancreas is to produce hormones that regulate sugars in the body and secrete the enzymes that support digestion. Pancreatic cancer is defined by cancer cells developing in the pancreas itself.

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the more terrifying diagnoses to receive and the staggering statistics attached to it make that very understandable. The facts make the need for further research glaringly obvious; research to help create more effective means for earlier, more accurate measures for diagnosis and certainly more effective means for treatment and cure. Until then, we are left with what little we do know about pancreatic cancer:

  • Today, pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Over 45,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed this year alone.
  • Of all cancers, pancreatic cancer has the distinction of being the cancer with the highest mortality rate which means that 94% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will die within five years, with 74% losing their life within the first year following their diagnosis. The average life expectancy for those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that has metastasized is three to six months. Even with continued research into the disease, the prognosis for pancreatic cancer – the survivability for patients – has not improved in the past 40 years.
  • When pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, the treatment options include surgical removal of the tumor (a possibility in less than 20% of people diagnosed), chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of both. These minimal treatment options make early diagnosis so important to have the best opportunity for tumor removal. Unfortunately, there are currently no detection tools for diagnosis at this early of a stage.
  • Even though pancreatic cancer is particularly insidious, it receives just a sliver of the dollars earmarked for cancer research by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are vague at best and could be caused by a variety of other conditions. These symptoms including back pain, abdominal pain, nausea, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, changes in bowel movements, and the development of diabetes.
  • Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include family history, diabetes, poor diet, and alcohol and tobacco use.
  • Pancreatic cancer is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 60. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis in those under 40 is very rare.