Pancreatic cancer has reached a higher level of societal awareness thanks to Steve Jobs and his courageous battles with this disease over the years. About 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this cancer every year and having it isn’t good news. It’s a difficult cancer to detect until it hits its later stages because there are often no signs and symptoms. By knowing these interesting facts about the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths in the US, however, you or someone you know might find the one bit of information that could save their life.
1. It’s almost always a death sentence.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers that has seen no improvement in the way that it is treated over the last four decades. When stretching out survival rates to 5 years for this cancer, there is just a 6% life expectancy rate. 3 out of 4 people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will actually die from it within the first year of their diagnosis. If metastatic disease is included, life expectancy rates may be as low as 3 months.
2. There are very few treatment options.
When there is a tumor on the pancreas that is causing the tumor, only about 20% of them are operable. A typical treatment option that is offered is extensive chemotherapy with radiation therapy in order to kill off the cells of the tumor. If there were any detection tools available to help find the cancer sooner, success rates might be higher, but there hasn’t been any real changes made in this field of medicine since 1974.
3. Hardly any money is spent on pancreatic cancer research.
Although at first glance, the $105.3 million that is spent annually on research for this deadly cancer seems like a lot of money, it really is barely a drop in the bucket. The National Cancer Institute spends nearly $6 billion every year on cancer research. This means that pancreatic cancer research is rarely more than 2% of its overall budget. That’s not good news to the 39,000 people who will die from pancreatic cancer this year.
4. Where people get treated matters.
The procedure that helps to remove the tumor from a pancreas is called a Whipple procedure. There is a direct correlation to the 5 year survival rates for patients who get treated at facilities who perform 20 or more of these procedures. Even when a tumor is classified as large, above 4 centimeters, the 5 year survival rate can surpass 25% as long as the cancer has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
5. The risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer are not really known.
Doctors do know that having diabetes or the risk factors to develop diabetes, smoking, a family history of cancer, and age are related to having a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Why the cancer forms, however, is not really known right now. Add this to the fact that most people don’t even know they have the cancer until it is too late and it is definitely a silent killer.
Early detection of pancreatic cancer is essential, so any changes in your lifestyle or routine that seem out of character, including prolonged stool changes, should be evaluated by a medical professional. This is especially true if you have a family history of cancer. It might turn out to be nothing, but it might also be the one decision that saves your life.