Over 55,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year. And about 95 percent of people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will lose their lives from it.
Pancreatic cancer is the third mostly deadly cancer in the US. It is preceded only by lung and colorectal cancers.
Why is Pancreatic cancer so deadly?
Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is often found at an advanced stage. In the early stages of the tumor, the pancreatic cancer is very treatable, but symptoms usually do not show until someone experiences pain in the abdomen or becomes jaundiced, and at this point, the cancer is very advanced.
There are no general screening tools to check for pancreatic cancer like there are for breast or colon cancer.
Who is mostly at risk?
Men have a somewhat greater risk of pancreatic cancer with 1 out of every 63 men being at risk and 1 out every 65 women. This gap used to be larger and may be related to men using tobacco more often than women do. Almost 90% of patients who are diagnosed are 55 and older. In fact, 71 is the average age for patients who are diagnosed.
African Americans are also at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, perhaps due to higher rates of obesity, smoking, and diabetes.
Usually, pancreatic cancer is only controlled and treated through surgical removal and it has to occur before the cancer spreads.
There are two 2011 approved drugs that can help patients with the pancreatic tumors. These drugs can lower the blood supply and delay the metabolism of the tumor’s cells. Before this, the typical treatment for pancreatic cancer consisted of chemotherapy.
Everolimus is a treatment that can treat neuroendocrine tumors. This medicine does have serious side effects however, which include breathing problems, issues with the lungs, and even renal failure, which can be deadly.
Sunitinib was also marketed in 2011 to treat pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. This drug can cause liver problems or even death.
Even surgery in pancreatic cancer patients that is caught early can be dangerous. This is because even microscopic tumor cells that are left behind can cause a recurrence of the cancer.
Future of treatment
Future treatment of pancreatic cancer lies in understanding how pancreatic tumors come to be and how they spread.
More targeted therapies and immunotherapy are being researched. Clinical trials are also being done to find other therapies.
Other tests are being done to find biomarkers of pancreatic cancer so that simple tests using blood samples or urine can diagnose and detect it.
As of now, there is no routine test to check for pancreatic cancer. This could potentially save thousands of lives and help bring an early diagnosis and a greatly increased chance for survival for thousands of people every year. Read more about this story here.