While there has been some progress in the treatment of pancreatic cancer over the past couple of decades, it’s still one of those cancers that are difficult to cure.
When looking at the life expectancy and prognosis of pancreatic cancer, we typically concentrate on the five-year survival rate, which basically refers to the percentage of individuals still alive once five years elapse after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Why five years? Well, five years are used as a benchmark as it’s a great indicator that the disease has responded to treatment. These rates don’t only refer to persons who survive five years later, some people live well beyond the five years.
Here are the most recent statistics from the National Cancer Institute on pancreatic cancer survival rates:
- Overall, pancreatic cancer’s five-year survival rate is 7.2 percent
- For pancreatic cancers that haven’t spread past the pancreas (localized cancers), the survival rate is at 27.1 percent.
- For those cancers that have affected other parts near the pancreas (regional cancers), the survival rate is at 10.7 percent
- For those cancers that have spread further (metastatic or distant cancers), the survival rate is 2.4 percent.
Although these statistics give an outlook of the general population, they may not always consider the details of your specific case. This is because personal factors such as family history, age, and behaviour can considerably affect your prognosis.
Survival by stage
The survival rate may vary with each stage of this cancer. Typically, pancreatic cancer grows fast and may have a poor prognosis. The earlier it’s diagnosed and treated, the higher the chances of curing it.
If it’s diagnosed at an advanced stage, the tumor may be hard to remove through surgery, making it more difficult to treat.
A small study conducted on adults with common pancreatic cancer reveals that high-risk breast cancer patients with BRCA1 AND BRCA2 gene mutations have the lowest rates of survival compared to those without the mutations. The same study also discovered that the BRCA! and BRCA2 patients would survive better with platinum-based chemotherapy than those who used other kinds of drugs.
The research findings highlighted the potential for harmonizing targeted therapies to groups of patients with pancreatic cancer based on their genetic makeup.
The survival rates and therapies for patients who have pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAC) are very poor at the moment, and such a finding that tailors better treatment for some of the patients is received with enthusiasm. Surgical removal of the tumor is currently the standard care for PDAC, but only a fraction of patients are eligible for the operation since most of the cancers don’t show symptoms and are not diagnosed until they have already metastasized.
During the study:
- Noncancerous tissue from 658 patients was analyzed. The patients had sporadic PDAC and had undergone operation between the year 2000 and 2015. Out of the 658, twenty-two of them (3%) had the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations in their DNA. The patients were matched by age and structural tumor locations to 105 of the other patients who had no mutations. The mid-range age was 61 years for both groups, and 62 (49%) of them were male.
- Every patient in the control and mutation groups underwent a CT scan every four to six months during the first two years following the removal of the tumor, and yearly after the removal. The overall survival time from diagnosis to death was calculated.
- The disease-free survival was also calculated from the time of surgery to the date of recurrence or stopped at the last follow-up date.
- The pancreatic cancer patients who had the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations had an overall worse survival average of 20.2 months vs. 27.8 months, and a disease-free survival averaging 8.4 months versus 16.7 months than the patients without the mutations.
- The patients who underwent platinum-based chemotherapy after surgery had better survival rates overall than those who took other treatment options or received no chemotherapy at all.
- Out of the 22 patients with BRCA 1 and 2 mutations, 10 went through platinum-based chemotherapy, eight received alternative chemotherapy, and four did not receive any chemotherapy after surgery. Their survival rates averaged 31 months, 17.8 months and 9.3 months respectively.
Researchers compliment the findings, which they view as a step forward in precision medicine techniques that will match patients to better treatment options. They’re looking forward to find ways of sequencing tissue from pancreatic cancer patients to help in defining the biological patterns and other patterns that will help in improving the treatment decisions. This will go a long way in reducing the soaring mortality rates of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer, compared to other cancers, has a low profile. But then it is the third leading cause of cancer mortalities in the United States according to the American Cancer Society. Its mortality rates increase each year. Pancreatic cancer is deadly because it doesn’t have early screening tests and has no cure as well. Experts say the nature of the disease makes it difficult to research.
Pancreatic cancer has numerous challenges which call for more funding to help in research that will ensure availability of better screening and treatment options.
Some of these challenges are that:
- Pancreatic cancer is rapidly lethal. The disease does not behave like other cancers, so the treatment approaches used on other cancers don’t work well on pancreatic tumors.
- Not many pancreatic cancer survivors can create awareness campaigns and publicize fundraising events to help combat the disease. This is because most of them die within a short period of diagnosis. It is difficult to find and retain pancreatic cancer patients for clinical trials and further research because of its metastasizing speed.
- There’s little time for the patients and their families to absorb the diagnosis before the patient succumbs to the disease.
- Pancreatic cancer has been underfunded and understudied because it is a little bit of a Catch-22 for scientists and clinicians studying it. The best thing a doctor can offer a pancreatic cancer patient is optimism and hope.
- The resistance mechanism in pancreatic cancer is that it decreases the supply of blood instead of increasing it the way other cancers do.
- Clinical staging system of pancreatic cancer is not clear-cut. Even when caught at early stages, the disease requires complicated surgery (Whipple procedure), and after surgery, the l0-year survival rate is less than 10%. The disease ends up metastasizing because even the early tumors will have already spread. They get to the bloodstream and find ways to survive in other body organs including at the microscopic level.
- Pancreatic cancer does not trigger the immune system, making it difficult to detect through lab tests.
Recent discoveries have made the disease more understandable. Researchers have begun to look for more ways to out-think the tricky disease cells using immunotherapy techniques and molecular biology. Techniques are underway to help target particular aspects of the tumor cell of the pancreas that will prime it to be receptive to drug therapies used in other cancers.
Research reports that patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer have longer overall survival when they undergo surgical resection after neoadjuvant therapy. The development of advanced systematic treatments of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, patients with non-metastatic locally advanced pancreatic cancer have an increased chance for surgery and improved survival.
Locally advanced pancreatic cancer accounts for 30% of newly diagnosed pancreatic cancers and is surgically unresectable because of involvement of adjacent vessels. The current guidelines recommend that patients with good performance status be given non-operative treatment. Studies suggest that patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer (LAPC) can be cured if given resection after induction chemotherapy.
The research was carried out on 415 patients with LAPC to confirm if surgical resection after neoadjuvant therapy was associated with improvement in survival rates compared to aggressive non-operative management. Thirteen patients underwent surgical exploration based on the response of tumor to neoadjuvant therapy, and to another 103 patients who had no signs of the progression or metastases of local disease after four months of neoadjuvant therapy.
- Eighty-four patients achieved the resection of the primary tumor (72% of patients eligible for exploration and 20% of all LAPC patients). Resection was aborted intraoperatively in 12 patients who showed occult abdominal metastatic disease and in 20 patients because of local extension of the tumor. In 89% of the cases, resection margins showed negative for tumor (R0).
- After resection, 40 patients developed recurrence of the disease, 13 patients with most commonly local recurrence and nine patients had distant liver metastases.
- The median survival during diagnosis was 35.3 months for the group under resection and 16.2 months for the 331 patients who were treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- The overall survival rates were significantly higher in the resected group at one year (96%) and three years (50%) than in the non-resected group which had 74% at one year and 11% at three years.
The overall results showed that the patients had comparable survival after the neoadjuvant therapy and surgery to those with the initially resectable disease which was a significant improvement. However, LAPC patients under neoadjuvant therapy treatment need to be monitored and repeatedly assessed to identify those who can be taken to surgery. Doctors concluded that aggressive neoadjuvant therapy could help in reducing tumor and making surgery feasible.
Pancreatic cancer accounts for almost three percent of all cancers and is considered deadly due to its low survival rate. The disease at its early stages rarely shows any symptoms, and there are no specific screening tools to identify pancreatic cancer. Even after undergoing surgery, 30% of pancreatic cancer still goes undetected, leaving a possibility for the cancer to recur five years after surgery.
Here’s information about the rising rates of pancreatic cancer:
- Pancreatic cancer was the fourth leading cause of cancer mortality in the U.S.
- Currently, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths, and even with the rising survival rates, it’s expected to become the second leading cause.
- The incidence of pancreatic cancer has risen by approximately 0.5% each year for more than a decade. This is according to the National Cancer Institute.
- The rise in mortality rank of pancreatic cancer can be partly explained by the advances in treating other cancer types particularly prostate, breast and colon cancer. Immunotherapy has still not worked for pancreatic and liver cancer.
- Over three-quarters of new pancreatic cancer patients are aged between 55 and 84 years old, meaning that the aging population is the main contributor.
- Smoking is the most significant contributor to the development of pancreatic cancer. Even though smoking rates have dropped in the U.S., it will be 30 to 40 years before we experience a proportionate drop in the rates of pancreatic cancer.
- The increase in type 2 diabetes and obesity have contributed to the rise in pancreatic cancer. According to Robert A. Wolf, MD, obesity has overtaken smoking as the primary cause of the increase in pancreatic cancer.
- Pancreatic tumors metastasize quickly unlike many other cancers which can be cured if detected early. Liquid biopsies and precision medicines are hot areas of oncology, but pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat effectively.
- Some doctors believe that patients will be helped by precision medicine therapies, especially the 10% who have hereditary pancreatic cancer. The current blood tests cannot specify though.
- Prevention can combat the rising rates of pancreatic cancer. According to some doctors, 30% of pancreatic cancer can be prevented by better diets, more exercise, no smoking and cutting back on obesity.
For some years, research has focused on understanding the appropriate balance of good bacteria within the intestinal tract. Links between the onset of disease and gut dysbiosis are getting established with the hope of developing therapeutic interventions to halt the progression of the disease. Investigators have released data to describe how bacteria population in the pancreas increases largely in patients with pancreatic cancer to be dominated by species that block the immune system from attacking tumor cells.
Findings from a new study indicated that:
- Removing bacteria from the pancreas and gut by treating mice with antibiotics reprogrammed immune cells and slowed the cancer growth to identify cancer cells.
- Oral antibiotics increased the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors, a form of immunotherapy that had failed in the clinical trials of pancreatic cancer before to produce a strong antitumor shift in immunity.
- Bacteria change the immune environment around the cancer cells to allow them to grow faster in some patients than others even when they have the same genetics.
- In patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) – cancer that turns fatal within two years – pathogenic gut bacteria moves to the pancreas through the pancreatic duct.
- Once in the pancreas, the abnormal microbiome releases cellular components that shut down the immune system to promote the growth of cancer.
The research was carried out to understand the immune suppression in pancreatic cancer and its reversal. Ongoing studies are meant to confirm the species of bacteria that can shut down the immune reaction to cancer cells and set the stage for new diagnostic tests that are bacteria-based, a combination of immunotherapy and antibiotics, and maybe for probiotics that prevent cancer in patients who are high-risk.
Although rare, pancreatic cancer is soon going to be the second largest cause of cancer deaths. Right now, pancreatic cancer is becoming more common. The rising rank in pancreatic cancer mortality reflects the advances in battling other malignancies. Proper screening and treatment have helped patients with other cancers like prostate, breast, and colon cancer to live long lives. Innovations like immunotherapy have unfortunately not worked well for pancreatic cancer. More than three-quarters of pancreatic cancer patients are between 55 and 84 years old.
Smokers face more than twice the risk of pancreatic cancer than non-smokers. The increasing rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity the new villains in the risk of pancreatic cancer and many other cancers. The reasons for these risks include:
- Low-level chronic inflammation
- Excessive insulin
- Too much hormones and growth factors released by fat tissue
- Metabolic abnormalities
The facts about pancreatic cancer are:
- Even if blood tests could detect pancreatic cancer at an early stage, its treatment will still need to be improved.
- Pancreatic tumors metastasize quickly.
- Five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer have increased from 6 to 9% in recent years.
- Pancreatic cancer is preventable by cutting back on obesity, having a better diet, no smoking, and more exercise.
Researchers keep looking for early signs of pancreatic cancer in the tissue or the blood of people of 50 years of age and above who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes. The challenge is to find precise enough biomarkers to avoid emotional and costly false negatives and positives. The quest for blood tests for cancer (liquid biopsies) is one of the hottest areas in oncology. The tests reported have very bad specificity.
Pancreatic cancer is ranked fourth in causing cancer deaths in America. Research shows that of all patients detected with this disease, only 6 percent will survive for five years, and those who are diagnosed with advanced cancer of the pancreas will not live for more than a year.
Therefore, there is a dire need for extensive research and development with regards to pancreatic cancer. Finding a cure for pancreatic cancer has not been given the importance it deserves even when various foundations have been set up all over Texas and the United States as a whole.
Foundations for pancreatic cancer have devoted funds for research projects hoping to bring an evolution in finding a cure or early detection method. The many noteworthy scientific findings and discoveries of this deadly disease have not yielded much; there is still a lot to be done.
Investing in research is important because:
- It can help to find a test that will necessitate early detection of pancreatic cancer.
- It can pave the way for more effective, long-term treatments.
- It can help find a cure for pancreatic cancer.
- Presently, researchers and scientists are studying the growth and genetic code of pancreatic cancer. Findings have revealed that cancer grows slowly and gradually and that it instantly affects the pancreas itself.
Any funds received are dedicated to developing advanced and progressive diagnostic tests that are sensitive enough to identify and distinguish the changes in the pancreas early enough.
Money, time and effort are being spent to enhance new methods and techniques for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Vaccines are developed to help boost the immunity of patients to help them fight against pancreatic cancer. Improved drugs are being developed to help shrink the tumors, and injections that target the cancerous cells are being availed to patients.
The public, doctors, politicians and all other stakeholders are encouraged to volunteer and donate towards fighting to end pancreatic cancer. By donating, you will give a pancreatic cancer patient a chance to fight against this disease.
Pancreatic cancer is considered deadly due to its low survival rate. Cancer of the pancreas rarely shows any symptoms at its early stages when it is treatable. There are no specific tools for screening it. Often, when a patient undergoes surgery, 30% of the pancreatic cancer goes undetected, leaving only a small subset to be removed. It can recur five years after surgery.
The risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include smoking, consumption of alcohol, type 2 diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity. Individuals aged over 50 years are at a higher risk. Tumors are common in smokers than nonsmokers. Only 5% of patients develop pancreatic cancer because of the genetic factor. A poor diet full of red and processed meat and obesity are other factors that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer because the pancreas produces more insulin.
The pancreas has three main parts, the head which produces digestive juices, the neck and body, and then the tail which produces insulin. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer begin to show:
- When the tumor is in the head of the pancreas, which affects the exocrine function and the patient shows symptoms of jaundice. About 95% of malignant tumors of the pancreas are adenocarcinomas and occur in the head where there is the first segment of the small intestine.
- They might also show the onset of diabetes if the tumor is placed in the tail of the pancreas.
- The jaundice is accompanied by body itchiness which results from bile salt crystals deposit under the skin.
- Because the tumor in the head of the pancreas obstructs the flow of the stomach contents into the small intestine, the patient may experience vomiting.
If pancreatic cancer is detected and the patient is referred for curative surgery, they undergo a procedure called Whipple, which removes the head of the pancreas, the first part of the duodenum, the gallbladder, and the bile duct. Surgery is done when the cancer is confined to the head of the pancreas. Other treatment procedures include total pancreatectomy, distal pancreatectomy, chemo, and radiation therapy for advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most alarming and insidious types of cancer. The disease only presents symptoms during its later stages and makes it difficult to detect. Even after its detection, getting effective treatment becomes hard because it is often too late. As the third most dangerous cancer type, pancreatic cancer kills more than 90% of patients in less than five years, causing more mortality than breast cancer.
More than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year. The Texas Pancreatic Cancer Association Network has managed to save lives by undertaking a multipronged approach towards dealing with the disease and making sure that the people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive. The networks work tirelessly with patients and their families to ensure that they live healthy lives.
For them to ensure that they can prevent many deaths from pancreatic cancer, the association networks play several significant roles as follows:
- They use multiple fronts to approach the issue: The association networks invest in clinical initiatives and research as well as services geared towards patients and legal aid. The association networks community receives financial aid from a nationwide net of support. The funding is used to improve the quality of life for patients at present and in future increase the rate of survival as much as possible.
- They function systematically: Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer need to get the best treatment and improve their quality of life. Research is the only way this can happen. For research to take place and bring successful findings, a scientific community must be involved.
Pancreatic cancer awareness needs to be spread around the world to increase the knowledge of the disease and get funds to help in the search for a cure. The pancreatic cancer associations are doing this, but it also requires everyone’s participation.