Why Pancreatic Cancer is so Deadly

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Actor Patrick Swayze died from it. The recent death of Apple visionary Steve Jobs is putting a renewed spot-light on the deadly disease, pancreatic cancer.
Jobs had a rare, less aggressive form of the disease and, with the help of a liver transplant and his vast financial resources, was able to live a good 7 years.
But for many, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is like a death knell because only 5% of pancreatic-cancer victims live 5 or more years after diagnosis.
According to an article in Market Watch, in the United States, an estimated 42,470 people received that terrible diagnosis in 2009. Of the newly-diagnosed, about 75% die within the first year no matter what treatment they receive, and patients with metastatic disease may survive just 3 to 6 months, according to the American Cancer Society.
That’s what happened to a colleague in my former university. She was only in her late 50s and appeared to be healthy. Then came news that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and – wham! – in just 2 months, she was gone.
While most other cancers have seen a rise in survival rates, the rate for pancreatic cancer has stayed steady for the past 30 years.
I’ve wondered why pancreatic cancer is so deadly.
A major reason is the lack of symptoms. Here’s an explanation from the UK’s Daily Mail:

The pancreas is a gland situated high in your abdomen that produces most digestive enzymes and insulin that regulates blood sugar levels.
As pancreatic cancer causes few symptoms in its early stages, the condition is often not diagnosed until the condition is relatively advanced and almost impossible to cure.
The length of time between diagnosis and death is typically short, at usually less than six months. In the UK around one in six patients survive their disease beyond 12 months. Steve Jobs revealed in 2004 that he had a rare, less aggressive form of the disease called islet cell neuroendocrine tumour. This allowed him to live with the disease for seven years.
Symptoms of the condition such as nausea and fever can be caused by a variety of conditions making it especially difficult to diagnose. Other symptoms include weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and stomach pain, although again they could be caused by other conditions such as hepatitis.
A doctor who suspects pancreatic cancer may feel the abdomen for unusual swelling, however because the pancreas is located behind the stomach it is difficult for them to feel for tumours.
An ultrasound scan can often miss pancreatic cancer as ultrasound waves are not good at penetrating deep into body tissues. A CT or MRI scan provides a more detailed and accurate picture.
If a tumour is suspected surgeons perform a laparoscopy (passing a thin camera inside the abdomen). If a biopsy confirms cancer surgeons will try and remove the tissue. This is the only way to cure the cancer but is only suitable for one in five patients where the tumour has not progressed to wrapping itself around important blood vessels.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help shrink the tumour and reduce the pain but not cure the condition.
~Eowyn

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0 responses to “Why Pancreatic Cancer is so Deadly

  1. Yep this disease is deadly. My dad’s previous wife had it and died w/in 4 months. My bff’s sis, who is only 47 was recently diagnosed w/it and docs give her 3 to 6 months. Both had stomach pain and didn’t have a clue as to what was causing it. Sad…

     

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