Statistics show that pancreatic cancer was third among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in 2018 in the United States. An estimated 56,770 new pancreatic cancer diagnoses and 45,750 deaths will occur in 2019 according to the American Cancer Society.
Men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer mostly due to an increase in tobacco use but the figures currently stand at one in 65 for women and one in 63 for men. Many of those affected are over 45 years of age and almost 90 percent are over 55 and the risk increases with age. The average age at which patients are diagnosed is 71.
There are several reasons as to why this particular cancer is deadly. They include:
- Early stage pancreatic cancer presents minimal symptoms. The location of the pancreas makes it difficult to notice any changes in tissue and there is no specialized equipment or procedure for screening as it is with other cancers. All these factors combined make it difficult to catch pancreatic cancer early enough before spreading to other regions.
- There are two types of pancreatic cancers: exocrine and endocrine tumors. Endocrine tumors account for a paltry one percent of all pancreatic cancers. Exocrine tumors are more common and incidentally more aggressive. Once the cancer advances, it can recur and even spread to the liver.
- Once pancreatic cancer has progressed to further stages, surgery becomes the only treatment option and even then, only if it hasn’t spread. If any microscopic amount of cancer cells remains behind, the chance of recurrence increases.
Researchers are putting in more work into unearthing better treatment methods. Using genetics, doctors are focusing more on immune therapy and targeted therapies to get better results. With time, there will be a simple test like a blood or urine test for easier and faster detection. In the meantime, doctors use particular approved drugs to kill the metabolism and blood supply of these tumors.
There is a new blood test that promises a better chance of early detection of pancreatic cancer. This test, when used together with the current blood test prescribed, will also enable the screening of those at high risk for the disease. This combination of tests spots 70 percent of pancreatic cancers with a false-positive rate of less than 5 percent.
Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult for several reasons, top of which being that patients do not present with obvious symptoms early on. Its symptoms may resemble other diseases thus making it difficult to point out outright. The pancreas is also hidden behind the stomach and X-ray imaging may not easily catch it. This means that for many patients, the disease will have progressed to an advanced stage by the time they are finding out about it.
Pancreatic cancer is a dangerous disease and only 8.5 percent of patients live past five years. This makes these blood tests essential. This is how they work:
- The tests measure the amount of sugars given off by pancreatic cancer cells. The current test checks the levels of CA-19-9 while the new test looks at sTRA. These sugars are produced by different subsets of pancreatic cancer.
- The current test is used to confirm the presence of pancreatic cancer and finds about 40 percent of pancreatic cancers. It is also not used for screening for the ailment. This rate is almost half that of the two tests used together.
- Better detection rates mean patients can be screened and early intervention can be prescribed so as to better treat the disease. This is bound to improve survival rates for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
This combination test is great news for people at a high risk of developing pancreatic cancer. These include those with a history of pancreatic cancer in their family, those who developed type 2 diabetes later in their life, or those who previously had chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cysts.
Every year over 50,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States. Higher numbers are witnessed in Europe. Pancreatic cancer is a tough disease to live with as statistics show that of the people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, most of them will have died just within the first year.
Prostate cancer survival rates and duration paint a bleak image of things compared to all other major cancers. The median survival rate where the pancreatic cancer is advanced and untreated is close to three and a half months. This figure increases to eight months if good treatment is introduced. It is not set in stone and chances are many patients will live much longer.
As with any statistics, the length of time one lives will depend on several things including:
- Stage – The stage at which cancer is diagnosed always has an impact on survival rates. Pancreatic cancer detected in its early stages is more likely to get cured with surgery without damaging the rest of the organs. Catching it early means the risk of it spreading to other organs is reduced. Pancreatic cancer diagnosed in its advanced stages becomes difficult to treat.
- Treatment – There are different treatment options one can choose to help fight pancreatic cancer. The choice will depend on how far the cancer has progressed but the best option is surgery. Surgery may however not be possible for some cases. Some treatment methods like immunotherapy take a longer time to take effect and may not be advisable for advanced cancers.
- Health –A healthy body is better able to fight disease. Even after diagnosis and when undergoing treatment, patients should thrive to live a healthy lifestyle in form of proper nutrition, enough rest, and staying physically active. It is also important to have a healthy and positive mindset. It may take time and a little prodding but a healthy mindset always stands a patient in good stead.
Facts, figures, and statistics are all useful but there is no particular length of time for which a patient can live with pancreatic cancer. The prognosis may be scary but statistics continue to improve with time as researchers put in more work and resources into coming up with better treatment options.
Among all the ethnic groups in the U.S., Black Americans have the highest risk for pancreatic cancer, which is up to 67% higher than other groups. This is according to the data by the National Cancer Institute.
While there are many risk factors for pancreatic cancer such as diabetes, smoking, family history and obesity, evidence shows that the disparity is more attributed to access and social issues, and not biology.
Clinical trials lead to better outcomes
January being an awareness month for National Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials, was crucial to remind everyone about the significance of participating in a clinical trial as patients who take part in clinical research have improved outcomes.
Each treatment applicable today received an approval through a clinical trial. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, it’s important to carry out clinical trials at the diagnosis stage and when making a decision regarding treatment.
Typically, during the pancreatic cancer fight, clinical trials offer the best options for treatment. They provide patients with early access with advanced treatments that can result in better treatment options, progress in research and improved outcomes. If there’s no increased enrolment, it would be hard to receive approval on new and improved methods of treatment.
Ethnic diversity and tumor biology are important in clinical trials
According to I’m In, a campaign encouraging diversity when it comes to clinical trials, the clinical trial participants comprise of 5% African Americans and 1% of Hispanics. This is despite the former consisting of 12% of the U.S. population and the later comprising of 16% of the U.S. population.
The I’m In campaign demonstrates the importance of a patient’s racial and ethnic background in clinical trials. More diversity in clinical trials can help researchers to come up with better ways of fighting illnesses that disproportionately affect certain populations.
Besides, each pancreatic cancer is unique and treatments may depend on tumor biology. Studies reveal that selecting treatments on the basis of tumor biology may contribute to their success.
If you or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, you may start asking yourself questions such as, what’s this cancer’s stage? Can surgery help to remove the tumor? What are most effective treatment methods? And the questions can be endless.
Well, to begin with, don’t attempt to handle diagnosis on your own. Visit a cancer care center in Texas to find more information about the disease, which may include support services and treatment options.
Here are vital things you should know about the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer:
1. Seeing pancreatic cancer physicians and other specialists who specialize in pancreatic cancer treatment for patients, may improve outcomes.
2. Know the cancer type you have. Depending on the cell type they originate from, pancreatic tumors can be neuroendocrine or exocrine. Each type of cancer acts differently and may show different responses to treatment.
3. Know stage of cancer, and its implication. The stage is critical as it helps oncologists to establish the right treatment option.
4. Ask about the eligibility for surgery. Around 30-50 percent of pancreatic cancer patients who qualify for surgery end up being told they don’t qualify. It’s recommended you consult a surgeon who performs many (over 15) pancreatic surgeries a year. If you’re eligible, surgery is the ideal option for long-term survival of the disease.
5. Understand that each pancreatic tumor is different so, you may need to undergo molecular profiling to help establish the best method of treatment.
6. Be acquainted with your treatment options as well as clinical trials. Patients who get involved in clinical research may have better outcomes.
7. Consider coming with someone else for medical appointments. The information provided by healthcare professionals following diagnosis can be too overwhelming. A family member or friend can be supportive and ensure all questions are responded to.
8. Have a support system of persons who can help in diverse ways. You’ll need support from caregivers, healthcare professionals, friends and family to manage your needs.
The pancreas is a vital organ in the body that helps in the regulation of sugar in the blood. When the pancreas develops cancer, it spreads to other parts of the body such as spleen, stomach, lungs, liver, and bowel, leading to stage 4 pancreatic cancer if no immediate medical action is taken.
Studies show nearly 53% of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are already at stage 4. Cancer stages can be established once a patient has undergone surgery. The surgery establishes the extent of cancer, how much it has spread to other body organs, and the size of the tumor.
In the second and third stage, pancreatic cancer has spread to the blood vessels and the lymph nodes. Oncologists can use the size of the tumor to establish pancreatic cancer stage. All tumors below four centimeters are categorized under stage 1 pancreatic cancer. Tumor size increases depending on how far cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Note that stage 4 pancreatic cancer has no cure because it has spread to many organs in the body. At the final stage, one is put under intensive treatment to live healthily and help relieve severe pain.
Early detection of pancreatic cancer is helpful in establishing the treatment method to be applied by oncologists. Different methods can be used to treat stage 1 pancreatic cancer.
Therefore, it is advisable to seek early cancer screening. One should also take note of the possible signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer such as weight loss, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin, and pain in upper abdomen, to help them decide on when to seek medical attention.
The pancreas plays two major roles in the body: making juices that help in digestion and making hormones such as glucagon and insulin that help in the regulation of sugar levels. The exocrine pancreas cells make digestive juices, and it’s in these cells where 95% of all pancreatic cancers start. The American Cancer Society reports that pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers and approximately 7% of cancer deaths.
Here are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer:
- Jaundice: The skin and whites of the eyes turning yellow are the indicators of jaundice. The accumulation of bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance produced by the liver, is what causes jaundice. Usually, the liver produces biliburin as part of bile. And bile moves through the bile duct into the intestines to help in the breakdown of fats, and it finally exits the body via stool. Cancers that begin in the head of the pancreas are usually close to the bile duct. They press on the duct, resulting in jaundice.
- Dark urine: At times, the first thing to see when you have jaundice is dark urine. As the amount of bilirubin in blood rises, the urine turns to brown.
- Back or belly pain: Pain in the back or abdomen is a common pancreatic cancer sign. Cancers that begin in the tail or body of the pancreas can grow big and start to press on nearby organs where they cause pain. This cancer can also spread to those nerves close to the pancreas and cause back pain.
- Weight loss: People with pancreatic cancer may have no appetite, which may cause them to experience unintended weight loss.
- Nausea and vomiting: The cancer can press on the stomach’s far end and partly block it. This makes it hard for food to pass through. It can result in nausea, vomiting, and intense pain especially after eating.
Pancreatic cancer can spread to other tissues and organs as well. Therefore, the symptoms depend on which location the cancer is growing. If the cancer spreads to the lungs, for example, it may cause a cough or shortness of breath.
Surgery is often the best option that enhances the survival of pancreatic cancer patients. Data has revealed that most surgeons have had great success with patients, without many complications when administering surgery. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has strongly recommended that high volumes of pancreatic surgeons perform these surgeries every year.
Here are the primary facts about the pancreatic cancer surgery:
- Approximately 20% of patients with pancreatic cancer are qualified for surgery at diagnosis – The pancreas is located deeper into the body between other organs. Symptoms for pancreatic cancer are vague, making it impossible to diagnose the disease in its earlier stages. At times patients who qualify for surgery are turned away. It is strongly recommended that patients see specialized surgeons (those who perform pancreatic surgery at high volumes) for them to determine their eligibility for surgery.
- Pancreatic cancer patients can undergo different types of surgeries – The Whipple procedure is the most commonly used type of surgery. It is performed on patients with a tumor that is confined to the pancreas head. The other surgery options for pancreatic cancer patients include distal pancreatectomy or total pancreatectomy. These involve surgically removing part or all the pancreas respectively.
- Pancreatic surgery can be combined with other treatments – Patients with pancreatic cancer can also have radiation therapy, chemotherapy or any other treatment before their surgery. Neoadjuvant therapy is given before surgery while adjuvant therapy is what a patient receives after surgery.
- The surgically removed tissue can define future treatments – Tissues collected after surgery or from biopsies can be molecularly profiled. Genetic changes and protein presence will be identified alongside other actionable alterations to help predict the response of the patient to particular types of treatments.
- Surgery can also be palliative – Palliative procedures help to alleviate cancer symptoms such as pain, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting. Some of the palliative procedures commonly used are gastric bypass surgery, biliary bypass surgery, and duodenal stent insertion.
The tumor size and locale within the pancreas and other factors will determine the type of surgery a patient will undergo.
Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive and has a very poor prognosis. The disease lacks diagnostic symptoms at early stages and is resistant to treatment. Recent progress has enabled scientists to define the morphological and primary genetic changes, but it’s still not clear which factors trigger the occurrence of pancreatic cancer. Risk factors like genetic susceptibility,diet, fever, age, gender diabetes, race, chronic pancreatitis, and physical inactivity are well known.
Researchers reported thatteenagers who are obese are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer in their adulthood. The odds for pancreatic cancer can quadruple because of obesity. As weight increases, so does the risk and it also affects more men in high to normal weight ranges. In overall, obesity increases a person’s risk for pancreatic cancer. The new finding linking adolescence obesity with the disease can impact the risk. This, though does not prove that having excess weight can cause pancreatic cancer, it’s only the association of the two that exists.
According to the research:
- It was discovered that obesity was linked with almost four times higher risk for cancer in men. Among the women, the risk was slightly above four times higher. The researchers attributed to approximately 11% of pancreatic cancer cases to teenage obesity and overweight.
- They also reported that weight gain in teenagers could increase inflammation which damages body cells and increases cancer risk.
- Studies are underway to determine whether the inflammatory process in obese cases isconnected with the inflammatory process in the malignancy. It remains a delicately balanced phenomenon for the researchers. The mechanism behind the inflammation is presumed to have grave consequences when it’s not balanced.
The scientists are yet to learn more about this discovery to understand clearly the connection between obesity and cancer.
The Sandler-Kenner Foundation is at the forefront of funding cutting-edge research that is geared toward better detection and treatment options for pancreatic cancer. The foundation also seeks to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer care and the needs of the patients facing this diagnosis. The Sandler-Kenner Foundation primarily focuses on improving the survivability of pancreatic cancer patients by developing highly sensitive and cost-effective tools that can easily be implemented by medical practitioners to ensure early identification of pancreatic cancer.
Here’s the reason why you should donate to pancreatic cancer:
- Researchers are working feverishly to develop advanced tools to improve patient outcomes because pancreatic cancer support is a necessity. Even though the cause of pancreatic cancer is attributed to smoking, the majority of cases of pancreatic cancer have no known trigger. The survival rates are very low because patients with pancreatic cancer don’t survive long after diagnosis, and it is even worse to know that pancreatic cancer has no known diagnostic screening.
- Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rates compared to other cancers. The non-profit organizations that support research for developing better diagnostics and treatments like the Sandler-Kenner Foundation still need more financial support to further their efforts. Offering straight donations and actively participating in fundraising events or any other kind of support will help improve the treatments and outcomes.
- Raising awareness – The rates of diagnosis of pancreatic cancer keep increasing, but still many people are not aware of the disease and how it is taking away many lives. The best way to help is by donating to help raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and the need for more research and preventive measures.
- Pancreatic cancer is still a deadly disease that requires much funding for the ongoing studies on the disease which are limited because of directed focus on the already advanced symptomatic cancer. Currently, the biomarker research is confined to the samples from symptomatic patients. If the disease is studied early before presenting symptoms, researchers will develop advances in early detection of pancreatic cancer. Right now the disease has limited options for treatment and funds are being spent to find more comprehensive and effective treatments for all the stages of the disease.
A lot of time is spent on finding new methods of diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer. Research is making progress in the new advances that will help get lifesaving developments in the detection, treatment and prevention of the disease. The dedication of researchers, if supported by adequate funding, more promising developments will be discovered to ensure that the approach to pancreatic cancer is improved.