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Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells within the tissues of the pancreas become cancerous. The disease takes form in one of two different types of cells: exocrine (cells that make enzymes to aid digestion) and endocrine (hormone-making cells). Exocrine tumors comprise 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. The prognosis and treatment of endocrine cancers of the pancreas vary from the more common exocrine cancers because they may have different growth rates, causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Texas. The survival rates for pancreatic cancer are lower than most other forms of cancer, with only 6 percent of newly diagnosed patients expected to survive more than five years. The low survival rates can be attributed in part to the lack of symptoms during the early stages of the disease. However, research gleaned through clinical trials and advancements in technology are giving patients more treatment options.
- Pancreatic cancer ranks as the fourth deadliest cancer in the United States after cancers of the lung, colon, and breast.
- In 2012, an estimated 43,920 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States, with 37,390 people expected to die of the disease.
- In Texas, an estimated 2,569 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in 2012.
- Pancreatic cancer is expected to claim 2,286 lives of Texans this year.
- Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age, with 90 percent of patients diagnosed after age 55. The average age of diagnosis is 72.
- Race: African Americans face a higher risk of pancreatic cancer than do whites.
- Smoking: People who smoke are approximately twice as likely to have pancreatic cancer than are nonsmokers.
- Obesity and Lack of Exercise: Those who are considered obese and those who do not get physical activity face an increased risk of the disease.
- Family History: Those with a family history of the disease have an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. In some cases, the incidence of pancreatic cancer in a family may be associated with a genetic mutation. Genetic tests may identify a person’s risk for the disease.
Symptoms and Signs
Because the pancreas is located deep in the body, physicians often are unable to detect tumors during a regular checkup visit. When symptoms begin to appear, pancreatic cancer has often grown to an advanced stage and metastasized to surrounding organs, leading to a lower survival rate. If any of these symptoms are experienced, consult with a physician:
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Discomfort in the abdomen area
- Sudden loss of weight
- Difficulty digesting certain foods
- Swelling of the gallbladder
- Blood clots
Tips for Prevention
While there is no definite way to prevent pancreatic cancer, men and women can actively take steps to decrease their risk. Because smokers face a significantly increased risk, everyone should avoid cigarettes, as the use of tobacco also increases risk for a number of other cancer types. In addition, obesity can further complicate pancreatic cancer, so maintaining a healthy body weight through proper nutrition and consistent physical activity is recommended.
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients often include surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. A combination of treatments may be used to provide the best chance of disease control. In addition, clinical trials are regularly conducted to identify new or expanded cancer therapies to improve treatment outcomes for this deadly disease. Through participation in clinical trials, patients can help physicians identify new and promising drugs, while expanding their own treatment options.
Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, and Texas Cancer Registry