With an estimated 48,000 people diagnosed each year, pancreatic cancer is far from the most prevalent form of this disease. Its five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, however, makes it one of the deadliest. The American Cancer Society, in fact, estimates that some 40,000 people die in that country alone each year from the condition.
Often known as a silent killer, pancreatic cancer is a difficult condition to diagnose. A lack of early screening protocols is complicated by the reality that the disease tends to present few symptoms at its onset.
Only when patients reach advanced stages of the disease does this possible diagnosis tend to enter the picture. Compounding the problem, few people are aware of the disease. While celebrities stricken with pancreatic cancer, such as Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs, have raised some level of awareness, attentions and funding are not yet fully focused on the condition, which is believed to be on par to become one of the most common forms of death in countries across the globe.
In its earlier, more treatable form, pancreatic cancer presents with a variety of symptoms that can easily be chalked up to other causes. Patients may find themselves diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gastritis, hepatitis or even gall stones. Vague symptoms like back pain, skin itching or gastric changes, make arriving at a diagnosis even more difficult.
While medical science continues to play catchup in developing screening protocols for this disease, people at risk can help themselves by understanding the factors that do put them at risk. They include such things as tobacco use, obesity, age and a family history of the disease. Those with diabetes and a history of chronic pancreatitis may also be at higher risk. Anyone who is concerned about pancreatic cancer should discuss the topic with their healthcare provider. Early detection is tricky, but it can be done and it can help save, or at the very least extend, life.