Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed about 53,000 times each year in the United States. The disease claims about 43,000 lives annually. With a five-year survival rate that is less than 10 percent, this form of cancer has the dubious distinction of being the one with the highest mortality rate in the country. The average life expectancy after diagnosis, in fact, is less than six months if the cancer has already metastasized. Since this is typically when a diagnosis is readily made, the urgency surrounding this form of cancer is clear.

While breakthroughs have been made in breast, lung, prostate and many other forms of cancer in recent decades, pancreatic cancer detection and treatment has remained largely stagnant. At present, this form of cancer is nearly impossible to detect in its earliest stages. With no routine screening exam available and few, if any, discernable symptoms in its earliest stages, pancreatic cancer typically progresses dramatically before the concern is even considered by patients or their healthcare providers.

There are steps people can take to help increase pancreatic cancer survival rates. They include:

  • Knowing personal risks – People who understand their personal risks may be able to take steps to lower them. In general, risk factors include diabetes, family history, chronic pancreatitis, smoking and obesity, among others. A family doctor can also help people gauge their risks and identify ways to lower them.
  • Getting involved with fundraising efforts – Pancreatic cancer may be the deadliest form of the disease, but it is not the best funded. One of the best ways to help is to donate to or raise funds for organizations that finance research. Better screening tools and treatments are very much needed to improve pancreatic cancer survival rates.
  • Helping raise awareness – Working with organizations that strive to raise awareness about this form of cancer can also be important.

Pancreatic cancer survival rates remain grim, but work is well under way to change that. People can take an active role in helping by knowing their risks, raising awareness and assisting in fundraising that supports continued research.