When diagnosed with the deadliest of pancreatic cancers, most patients are immediately given a bleak prognosis and told to get their affairs in order. However, a small but growing number of patients are living much longer with this disease than ever before, thanks to advances in cancer treatment.
While the overall survival rate for pancreatic cancer remains low, some patients are surviving for five years or more after diagnosis. This is a marked improvement from just a few decades ago, when the average life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients was just months.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this improved survival rate. First, advances in chemotherapy and other cancer treatments have made it possible to better control the disease. Second, more patients are being diagnosed at an earlier stage, when the cancer is still relatively small and hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.
Of course, not all pancreatic cancer patients are so lucky. The disease is still very difficult to treat, and many patients succumb to it despite the best efforts of doctors and scientists. But for those who are able to beat the odds, survival is a mixed matter. On the one hand, they are living much longer than expected; on the other hand, they often face a life of cancer treatment and its side effects. Nevertheless, these patients are a strong reminder that there is hope for even the deadliest of cancers.
In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer and is expected to become the second deadliest within the next decade. The disease is notoriously aggressive and difficult to detect in its early stages. The average five-year survival rate is just 9 percent, and most patients die within a year of diagnosis.
There are two types of pancreatic cancer: exocrine and neuroendocrine. Exocrine tumors are the most common, accounting for about 95 percent of all cases. Neuroendocrine tumors are far less common, but they tend to be more indolent and have a better prognosis.
The vast majority of pancreatic cancers are exocrine adenocarcinomas. These tumors arise from the cells that line the pancreatic ducts. The most common type of exocrine pancreatic cancer is known as pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is a highly aggressive cancer with a very poor prognosis. The average five-year survival rate is just 6 percent. Even when the cancer is caught in its early stages, the five-year survival rate is only 20 to 25 percent.
The best hope for pancreatic cancer patients is to be diagnosed early, before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is very difficult to detect in its early stages. The symptoms, such as abdominal pain, weight loss, and jaundice, are often not apparent until the cancer is at an advanced stage.
There are several ongoing clinical trials testing new pancreatic cancer treatments. But the survival rates for pancreatic cancer have remained stubbornly low for decades. The disease is still one of the deadliest cancers, with very few patients surviving more than five years.