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Pancreatic Cancer
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Pancreatic Cancer

The following is a quote from U.S. Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland in which he says, "Although awareness of cancer's prevalence in the United States improves and medical advances in the field abound, pancreatic cancer has largely been absent from the list of major success stories." It is a cancer that has affected my family and relatives alike.

You have probably heard of famous people such as the American actor Patrick Swayze or industry titan Steve Jobs, Apple Computer. There was the heartfelt and superbly written book called The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. If you have the opportunity, I suggest watching his final lecture on YouTube. Simply search for "Randy Pausch Last Lecture" and be moved by what he has to say.

What you might find interesting is that Pancreatic Cancer sneaks up on you. There are no reliable early detection tests. In fact, cancer of the pancreas is referred to many times as the “silent” disease. This is due to symptoms not being present in its early stages. By the time it has become noticeable to patients and doctors, the disease is quite advanced.

So first some facts;

  • Over 44,000 diagnosed each year.
  • Nearly 37,700 will pass away each year.
  • Three to six months is the average life expectancy once found.
  • 4th leading reason for cancer deaths.
  • Highest death rate of every major cancer.
  • 94% of those diagnosed die in under 5 years.
  • The most sobering statistic; 74% will pass away before the end of the first year.

Pancreatic cancer remains a leading cause of cancer death largely because there are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages. In most cancer cases, regardless of cancer type, if found early, surgical removal of the tumor is still possible and increases dramatically survival rates. So naturally, early detection is very important.

So what are the risk factors and symptoms? The sad part is that there are few risk factors defined at this point. There are risk factors, few at best including your family's medical history, your age, if you smoke, and also the presence of diabetes. If you have some of these factors, it is a good thing to ensure your doctor is aware of these things and the information is contained in your medical record.

Additionally, some of the symptoms, which are vague at best that could potentially indicate a problem are listed below. The problem is that these symptoms are attributable many other conditions that could occur within the gastrointestinal tract and abdomen areas.

  • Pain in the abdomen or even back area which is unusual.
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin, commonly known as jaundice.
  • Unexplained appetite loss.
  • Changes in your stools
  • Onset or diagnosis of diabetes
  • Unexplained nausea.
  • Sudden loss of weight

The treatment options are limited and surgical removal as previously indicated can only take place in less than 20% of those diagnosed. There is of course the usual chemotherapy or radiation treatment along with the chemotherapy given to patients where surgical removal is out of the question.

As of now there are only three FDA€-approved drugs used in treating pancreatic cancer.

  • Erlotinib, also known as Tarceva
  • Gemcitabine, also known as Gemzar
  • Flourouracil, also known as 5FU

I know that everything stated above paints a pretty bleak picture. I have been witness to a close relative, my mother, and her fight against pancreatic cancer. She survived less than a year from the point she was diagnosed. Originally it was thought to be Diverticulitis, which shows you that even doctors have a hard time with the diagnosis.

The encouraging thing is that progress is slowly being made. There are programs that you can donate to, research programs that you can take part in, and helping to spread awareness is always helpful. But more importantly, you can remain hopeful. You can support those going through a fight with pancreatic cancer simply by supporting them. Your encouragement, your positive words, and your overall care will work wonders for anyone fighting any kind of cancer.

So educate yourself, educate others and keep fighting the fight against cancer. Stay inspired and keep inspiring others.


Street Talk

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