A recent study, led by an Indian researcher, has revealed that the chances of surviving pancreatic cancer significantly increases if the tumours are smallest.
Dr Banke Aggarwal, Associate Professor of gastroenterology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, found that smaller the tumour, the better are the chances of survival.
"Even though it seems intuitive and was supported by preliminary observations from earlier studies, for the first time we now have evidence that a progressive decrease in the size of a pancreatic tumour at the time of diagnosis improves patient outcomes rather dramatically," said Dr. Aggarwal, who completed his M.D. from the Jawaharlal Institute of Post-graduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry, India, in 1992.
The researchers examined 65 patients, with an average age of 67 years, with pancreatic cancer at the M.D. Anderson Cancer in Houston between December 2000 and December 2001. Out of these 65 patients, 38 were men.
The findings revealed that out of the 12 patients with tumours ranging from 20 millimeters or smaller had a median survival of 17.2 months.
Those with tumours 21-25 mm, had a median survival of 12.3 months, while in those with tumours 26-30 mm, median survival was 8.5 months.
And for those with tumours larger than 30 mm, median survival was 7.6 months.
Of those patients whose tumours were 20 mm or smaller, two were still alive after 48 months; none of the patients with tumours larger than 30 mm were alive after 36 months.
"These data emphasize the benefit and the need of finding and diagnosing tumours in the pancreas as early as possible," Dr. Aggarwal said.
"These numbers illustrate why we've made so little progress in improving outcomes for people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - we're not finding their tumours until they're too big and it's too late," he added.
Dr Aggarwal believes that in order to make progress against pancreatic cancer they have to redouble the efforts to identify symptoms that are associated with the early stages of the disease and diagnose it as early as possible.
The study appears in the current edition of Journal Pancreas.