- Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women.
- Experts say that about 95 percent of people with pancreatic cancer die from it as the cancer is often diagnosed on its advanced stages.
- The type of pancreatic cancer that killed Aretha Franklin, also Apple founder Steve Jobs, are neuroendocrine tumors, which are rarer than most types.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 44,330 people will die out of about 55,440 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. The 5-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is only 8.5%. The mortality rate is high because there are usually no symptoms during the early stages when cancer would be most treatable.
To date, 80% of patients are diagnosed when the disease has already progressed and it’s too late for surgical removal of the tumor. There are better odds when the patient’s tumor is much smaller.
The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. The average age at diagnosis is 71. Men are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women, tobacco use could be a factor.
Race can be a factor as well. African-Americans are more likely to get cancer than white people. Doctors believe that smoking, diabetes and being overweight may increase the risk.
Finding out who is at the highest risk of acquiring this rare disease is probably one of the biggest hurdles that contribute to the slow progress that scientists are making against pancreatic cancer. Physicians need to do an invasive ultrasound procedure or obtain a CT scan, which involves radiation, to spot pancreatic cancer.
The two types of pancreatic cancer are exocrine tumors and endocrine tumors.
Aretha Franklin died of neuroendocrine tumors- the rarer type constituting only 1% of all pancreatic cancers. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs also succumbed to pancreatic cancer, along with actors Alan Rickman and Patrick Swayze and opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.
Usually, pancreatic cancer is controlled only through surgical removal of the tumor in its early stage. The problem is, both screenings expose many patients to small risks and could be terrifying to a patient when it yields false-positive results. A good way to start screening is with people who have family members – at least two relatives – with the disease. These people are good candidates for screening as they might have a gene that could expose them to cancer risks.
Scientists are trying to find out which forms of pancreatic cancer are susceptible to new drugs and are looking for new ways to identify people who will benefit most from treatment. It somehow gives us a clearer picture of how the battle against cancer is going, in general. But, like both tumor forms of pancreatic cancer, the progress is still excruciatingly slow.