November is National Pancreatic Cancer Month

Advertisement

Pancreatic cancer takes the lives of tens of thousands of people each year in the United States, including notables such as Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, and perhaps even someone near and dear to you. November is National Pancreatic Cancer Month and a time to reflect on what you can do to help prevent and fight this disease, which currently has no cure.

Pancreatic cancer research is aggressive

Individuals who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer—and there will be approximately 44,030 new diagnoses in 2011, according to the National Cancer Institute—have a five-year survival rate of less than 6 percent. People tend to die shortly after they are diagnosed, although some individuals, such as Jobs, survive for several years (seven in the case of Jobs).

One reason pancreatic cancer is so deadly is that it typically doesn’t cause symptoms until it reaches its later stages. Those symptoms, which include abdominal pain, jaundice, back pain, and weight loss, usually occur after the pancreatic tumor is quite large and, in many cases, has already spread beyond the pancreas. Risk factors for the disease are smoking and family history.

Unfortunately, only 10 to 15 percent of people with pancreatic cancer get their diagnosis in time to be candidates for surgery, and even then the disease recurs in 85 percent of patients. All of this adds up to a very poor five-year survival rate.

Advertisement

Researchers are also aggressively looking for ways to prevent and treat pancreatic cancer. A recent Phase I/II trial, for example, found that a novel drugs combination of gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel could extend life by about 6 months.

In another recent study, investigators identified a protein that could be a reliable marker for pancreatic cancer. This potential screening test for the disease is still under development. Yet another study found that vitamin A can inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells by changing the structure of the noncancerous cells that surround the cancerous ones.

Currently, treatments offered to patients with pancreatic cancer include chemotherapy (e.g., gemcitabine) and radiation therapy, and they are often administered together. Biologic agents, including a drug called Tarceva (erlotinib), are prescribed to block the growth factor that pancreatic tumor cells make.

The road to find ways to prevent and treat pancreatic cancer continues to be an arduous one, but scientists are not giving up the fight. During National Pancreatic Cancer Month, and indeed every month of the year, is the time to remember the risk factors and symptoms of this highly deadly disease.

SOURCE:
National Cancer Institute

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

Advertisement

Comments

I think it is important to distinguish the difference between the form of pancreatic cancer that took Steve Job's life (neuroendocrine) - the type that allowed him to survive YEARS, a FAR less common variety - and the most often diagnosed form (exocrine) that claims lives typically within months after diagnosis. Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer only accounts for 5% of those diagnosed, while exocrine pancreatic cancer accounts for 95%! Not mentioning this fact in the article gives those that are less informed on the subject the impression that there are no differences between the cancer that allowed Steve Jobs YEARS with his family, versus the one that took my mother in 9 MONTHS.
I'm sorry to hear about your mother. Thank you for pointing out the difference between the types of pancreatic cancer. The disease also took the life of my young (42) cousin, although I am unsure of the type that affected her.
I lost my dad to this cancer over a year ago and people think I am supposed to stop saying he went to sleep. He did, he drank a bunch of morophine and went to sleep. Why is it so wrong to use that term? No, I will never be over it. After diagnosis he had 2 weeks left. How do we get people tested faster?
My mom survived 9 months and 22 days after diagnosed, but when it took her, it all happened so quickly. Just 5 days before she was admitted into the ICU (on my birthday) we were in a lawyer's office trying to have her will taken care of. The lawyer called to get signatures the day she was taken to the hospital. She was admitted to the ICU on Monday, transferred to hospice on Friday and passed away the following Monday! It is such an evil cancer and MUST receive more funding and awareness... I will continue my mom's fight in her memory.