About 53,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year — 80 percent of those will be advanced stage. And while more people survive pancreatic cancer today than in decades’ past, the disease is still considered largely incurable and is a leading cause of cancer-related death.
According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year relative survival rate of pancreatic cancer is less than 10 percent, for all stages combined. For the 52 percent of people who are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the five-year survival rate drops to 3 percent.
Though these statistics are sobering, advances in research, treatment and diagnostics are extending the lives of those managing the disease.
Breakthroughs Bring Hope
In recent years, we’ve made headway on several fronts and are making small but important steps toward better outcomes,” explained surgeon Pedro Briceno, MD, who specializes in minimally invasive surgery for pancreatic, colon and hepatobiliary cancers and is part of a Sarasota Memorial’s GI cancer surgical team. “Today, we are able to scan, stage and surgically remove pancreatic tumors that in the past would have been deemed inoperable and are extending patients’ lives with new treatment techniques and targeted therapies.”
Prevention & Risk Factors
Your best defense against pancreatic cancer — and most other cancers — is prevention and reducing modifiable risk factors, such as smoking. Smokers face more than twice a nonsmoker's risk of pancreatic cancer. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes can also increase the risk of developing pancreatic and other kinds of cancer.
Roughly 10 to 15 percent of diagnosed pancreatic cancer cases are associated with family history, Briceno said, so genetic testing for hereditary cancer indicators can be useful in certain cases. Among patients newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the majority (75 percent) are 55 to 84 years old. Incidence rates also are higher among black people than white people.
Living with Pancreatic Cancer
For those who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, staying informed and vigilant is key. If treatment options are limited, experts urge patients to seek a second opinion—and potentially better options—from an experienced, multidisciplinary gastrointestinal (GI) oncology team.
“The SMH team really is at the forefront of advanced treatment for pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Briceno, who handles some of the most difficult pancreatic cancer cases at Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH). “We can tackle complicated surgeries that other surgeons may not.”