Facts of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreas Behind Stomach
Pancreatic Cancer Facts
Approximately 55,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually in the U.S. and 432,242 died worldwide in 2018. The problem with this lethal malignant neoplasm is that it is often not diagnosed in time for a successful treatment plan. The five year survival rate from this cancer is only 9%.
The international mortality rate varies around the world. The highest rates are found in Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe. Then, Northern Europe and North America are equal. The lowest rates are found in Eastern Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Western Africa.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alec Trebek are two well-known people that are battling pancreatic cancer. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was diagnosed with early stage cancer in 2009. She was diagnosed for the second time in March, 2019. Alex Trebek may step down as the Jeopardy host as he is getting sores in his mouth as a side effect to his treatment.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
There are only a few symptoms of this cancer in the early stages. When pancreatic cancer is found in the head of the pancreas the symptoms tend to appear sooner.
The following symptoms can appear with pancreatic cancer, but they are also found with other diseases.
Possible symptoms include:
- Jaundice when this cancer blocks the bile duct
- Upper abdominal pain radiating to the back
- New-onset diabetes
- Loss of appetite with unintended weight loss
Ruth Bader Gingsberg
Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors
There are several possible factors that may increase your risk for this cancer.
- Pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas)
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
- Alcohol abuse
- Age, as most people are diagnosed after age 65
- Family history of genetic syndromes increase the risk of cancer risk (this includes “the BRCA2 gene mutation, the Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome”)
A bowel obstruction may occur if the cancer growth presses or grows into the small intestine so the flow of digested food from the stomach is blocked.
Recurrent pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of the pancreas, which may be acute or chronic. It causes damage to the pancreas due to the activation of the digestive enzymes that are released into the small intestine and ultimately attacks the pancreas.
The only ways to prevent pancreatic cancer is to stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet with adequate amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables.
Pancreatic Cancer Survivor - Mayo Clinic
Stages of Pancreatic Cancer
This cancer has the same stages as other cancers. Unfortunately, most people are not diagnosed until they are in stage three or four, and the prognosis is poor in most of these cases.
Pancreatic cancer stages include:
- Stage 0: The cancer hasn’t spread. The pancreatic cancer is limited to the very top layers of the cells in the ducts of the pancreas. It is not visible on imaging tests or even to the eye.
- Stage I: Local growth. Pancreatic cancer is limited to the pancreas and is less than 2 centimeters across or greater than 2 (stage 1A) but no more than 4 centimeters (stage IB).
- Stage II: Local spread. The pancreatic cancer has spread to 4 centimeters and is “either limited to the pancreas or there is local spread where the cancer has grown outside of the pancreas or has spread to nearby lymph nodes. It has not spread to distant sites.”
- Stage III: Wider spread. The tumor may have even expanded into nearby major blood vessels or nerves, but has not metastasized to distant sites.
- Stage IV: “Confirmed spread. Pancreatic cancer has spread to distant organs.”
Survival rates are impacted by the following factors: age, sex, the type of cancer, the stage at the time of diagnosis, the tumor size, the serum albumin level, treatment modalities, lifestyle, overall health and the availability of healthcare systems.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatments
Treatments for pancreatic cancer depend on several factors. In approximately one third of the cases the tumor spreads outside of the pancreas and wraps around arteries and veins. This makes surgery very difficult, but it is considered the only chance at long-term survival. New research from Mayo Clinic has found surgery is best done after a round of chemotherapy.
Surgery for pancreatic cancer removes all or part of the pancreas, which depends on the size of the tumor. Unfortunately, only 20% of patients are able to have surgery.
Other treatments include radiation therapy, which is given daily over a five to six week period of time. Stereotactic body radiation (SBRT) or Cyberknife is a newer type of radiation therapy that is often used. Another type of treatment is Proton beam therapy, which uses an external-beam radiation therapy that uses protons rather than x-rays. Proton beam therapy destroys cancer cells and it also limits the amount of exposed healthy tissue receiving radiation.
Chemotherapy may be given at the same time as radiation therapy is received and it enhances the radiation. The side effects from these therapies include fatigue, nausea, mild skin reactions, upset stomach and loose stools. The side effects do not tend to last following chemotherapy and radiation..
Chemotherapy is usually scheduled for a specific number of cycles. Patients may receive one or more of the following medications:
- Capecitabine (Xeloda)
- Erlotinib (Tarceva), a type of Targeted therapy (see below)
- Fluorouracil (5-FU)
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
- Irinotecan (Camptosar)
- Leucovorin (Wellcovorin)
- Nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane)
- Nanoliposomal irinotecan (Onivyde)
- Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
Usually two of more drugs are given together, which means more side effects.
Other possible treatments include placing a stent in the bile duct to relieve jaundice, therefore it reduces itching and loss of appetite, which occurs with bile duct obstruction. Opioids are sometimes given to reduce pain. Anti-depressants are also given to treat depression that often occurs with this cancer.
Alex Trebek Chokes Up On Jeopardy!
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat as it is often diagnosed when a patient is in stages of three or four. There are very few early symptoms. Surgery is not always an option, but there are other treatments. Sadly, the prognosis is often poor, but research in ongoing. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute each list clinical trials on their websites.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Pamela Oglesby