Pancreatic cancer has received greater attention in recent years, with the death of Alec Trebek and United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer is "the third-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States" (behind lung and colorectal cancers). It has the highest mortality rate of all cancers with ninety-five percent of patients dying from the disease, and a 7% five-year survival rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, "death occurs at a more rapid pace" with pancreatic cancer than with any other cancer.
The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach. Its primary role is to aid in digestion and help regulate blood sugar in the body. Due to its location in the upper abdomen region, it is hard to detect if something is wrong with the pancreas until it's too late.
Pancreatic cancer is especially aggressive and its location makes it easy for it to spread into adjacent structures and organs such as the liver or stomach. It is usually diagnosed only after it has metastasized to surrounding tissues or other organs, if not other parts of the body. As a result, only about 15% of patients are good candidates for surgery.
Depending on the type and stage of cancer and other factors, treatment options for people with pancreatic cancer (other than surgery) can include ablation or embolization treatments, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, pain control and immunotherapy. "Factors such as a dense tumor microenvironment, a lack of precise symptoms, and hard-to-target genetic mutations make pancreatic cancer especially difficult to treat." Chemotherapy is the main type of systemic therapy used for pancreatic cancer. However, targeted therapy and immunotherapy are occasionally used and are being studied as potential treatments in select individuals with specific molecular or genetic features. In recent years, a larger focus of treatment has been on immunotherapy. Pancreatic cancers are inherently immune-cold tumors and have been largely refractory to immunotherapies in clinical trials. However, a recent clinical trial study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, showed that a "combination of chemotherapy with an immunotherapy meant to unleash the anticancer capacity of the immune system was effective against one of the hardest targets in cancer care, pancreatic cancer."
Although there is no cure for this type of cancer, a diagnosis of this disease does not automatically signal a death sentence. According to John Hopkin’s Medicine, "long-term prognosis for pancreatic cancer depends on the size and type of the tumor, lymph node involvement and degree of metastasis (spread) at the time of diagnosis. The earlier pancreatic cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer usually shows little or no symptoms until it has advanced and spread. Therefore, most cases (up to 80 percent) are diagnosed at later, more difficult-to-treat stages.
Signs and Symptoms
Army oneself with knowledge of the disease, including signs, symptoms and warning signs, can help an individual to be diagnosed at an earlier stage and have a better chance of survival. According to the American Cancer Society, some signs to look for include- jaundice in color, dark urine, light-colored or greasy stools, itchy skin, stomach or back pain, weight loss, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, gallbladder and liver enlargement, diabetes and blood clots.
If a doctor feels that there may be something wrong, they will perform scans, blood work, biopsies, genetic testing, or other procedures to help find the root cause of your symptoms.
We can protect ourselves from pancreatic cancer as well as many types of cancers or diseases by monitoring our weight, increasing our activity levels, watching what we eat, avoiding alcohol, and staying away from certain harmful chemicals. Although there is not one thing we can do to completely prevent ourselves from getting diagnosed with cancer, we can however pay close attention to what our bodies are telling us each and every day. If something doesn’t feel right, or if you are experiencing problems, you've never experienced before it is best to see your physician and let them know.
- Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis | Johns Hopkins Medicine
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