Why Is Pancreatic Cancer So Difficult to Treat?

Pancreatic cancer has a reputation for being extremely difficult to treat. What makes it different from other, more treatable cancers, and what do you need to know to protect yourself and those you love? Here are the facts about pancreatic cancer, including the symptoms, why it’s so deadly, and what you can do about it.

What is the outlook for pancreatic cancer patients?
The statistics for pancreatic cancer demonstrate how serious the disease is. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 53,070 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2016 and 41,780 deaths from the disease. It accounts for approximately 3% of new cancer cases and 7% of cancer deaths. The five-year survival rate for the disease for the years 2006 through 2012 is 7.7%. Note that every case is different and no conclusions can be made about an individual patient’s outcomes based on these numbers.

Why is pancreatic cancer so challenging to treat?
The reason pancreatic cancer is so deadly is that it is often diagnosed in advanced stages because it seldom causes symptoms when it initially develops. Because the cancer is relatively rare, doctors don’t recommend routine screening for patients who don’t have risk factors for the disease, as Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center oncologist Dr. Charles St. Hill explains in this video . This means pancreatic cancer is easily missed in early stages, when it is more treatable. In many instances, the cancer has spread to other organs by the time a diagnosis is made.

What can I do to reduce my risk?
Start by knowing the symptoms that do occur and reporting them to your doctor if they happen. Pancreatic cancer can cause back pain, stomach pain, jaundice, and loss of appetite. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Having diabetes, liver disease, or a family history of pancreatic cancer can make you more vulnerable to the disease.

At Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, our oncology unit provides both inpatient and outpatient care from a multidisciplinary team of experts who care for the whole patient, not just the disease. Call our hospital in Las Vegas at (702) 233-5300 for more information or a physician referral.

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