was in the news in the year 2011 when Steve Jobs, the
co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple, Inc., passed away after battling this
deadly disease for nearly a decade.
As the word indicates, pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues
of the pancreas
, which is a glandular
organ that lies behind the lower part of the stomach. The function of pancreas
is to secrete enzymes that aid digestion and hormones to control metabolism of
Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease
with a high mortality rate. It is reported to be one of the leading causes of
because symptoms that are specific enough to detect it actually do not appear
till the disease is quite advanced and complete surgical removal is not
possible. By the time it is diagnosed, the cancer has usually spread to other
parts of the body. Eleven months is reportedly the
average rate of survival for someone with advanced cancer of the pancreas
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice/yellow skin, dark
urine, abdominal or back
, unexplained weight
, light colored stools and loss of
Since pancreatic cancer is usually detected at
very late stages, research shows that it has a very poor 5-year survival rate
of less than 5 percent.
Thus for long-term survival, it becomes very crucial to
determine strategies to identify people who have increased risk of developing
pancreatic cancer. In cases where there is family history of this disease, it
has been seen that the genes which are responsible for such an inherited
predisposition remain largely unknown.
The Australian clinical researchers say
"Pancreatic cancer likely takes between 10 and 20 years to develop, providing
the potential for a very "broad window" of intervention if detected early,
which may be possible for people who inherit a predisposition."
The researchers from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Dr Jeremy
Humphris and Professor Andrew Biankin, studied medical histories and tumor
samples taken from a cohort of 766 pancreatic cancer patients, who were
operated on between 1994 and 2012. If patients had one or more first degree
relatives who had suffered from pancreatic cancer, then they were in the
category of people with inherited disposition; in other patients the cancer
was considered to be sporadic.
Nearly 9% of these patients had a parent or
sibling with pancreatic cancer
, a figure consistent with other studies. Study
participants whose first-degree relatives also suffered from pancreatic cancer,
had more pre-cancerous
upon examination of the pancreas tissue adjacent to the
cancer. Members of these families even had a significant risk of getting other
cancers such as melanoma
. It was also seen that chain smokers were 10 years younger
than non-smokers at diagnosis compared to 5 years younger in patients who had
not inherited the disease.
The results of the study have been published online in the journal Cancer
, which is a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer
Society. The study authors are confident about the possibility of identifying
novel susceptibility genes and design risk management and screening programs
for the people who are considered to be genetically susceptible.
It is an option if the doctor thinks
that it is possible to remove your cancer and if you are fit enough to cope
with it. It could help relieve your symptoms. To relieve jaundice, which is
quite common in pancreatic cancer, very often, a stent is put in. Sometimes, a
surgery is performed to get around blockage in the bowel to keep the digestive
It is recommended as a
first line of treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer. When started after
can help lower the risk of the cancer coming back.
Chemotherapy using gemcitabine
alone was the
standard for the years following, however the combination of gemcitabine with
was found to increase survival. Studies have shown that the folfirinox
chemotherapy regimen (using four drugs) and nab-paclitaxel were more
effective than gemcitabine, but it was associated with higher rate of serious
use radiotherapy to try to shrink the tumor but is used less often than surgery
and chemotherapy. At times, a combination of radiotherapy
and chemotherapy are used to treat cancers that cannot be removed with surgery.
The primary focus of
is not in treating the underlying cancer, but on treating
symptoms such as pain or nausea. It can assist in decision making such as when
or if hospice care would be beneficial. Biliary or intestinal obstruction can
also be treated with palliative surgery. Palliative care could also help in
treating depression which primarily accompanies the diagnosis of pancreatic
cancer and even fatigue and cachexia as well.