LOS ALAMITOS, CA – November, 2010 – Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers with a median survival time of only three and a half months if the cancer is found at an advanced stage and not treated1. Even when the patient undergoes surgery or receives chemotherapy or radiation, that time may be extended by only two and a half months. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 43,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and nearly 37,000 will die from the disease, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer death overall.
The pancreas is a small, fish-shaped organ that is approximately six inches long and two inches wide. It is located deep within the abdomen, hidden between the stomach and spine. The pancreas is responsible for producing enzymes that aid in food digestion (exocrine glands) and secreting hormones to help the body maintain and regulate sugar levels (endocrine glands). The most common type of tumor of the pancreas, accounting for about 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases, is an exocrine tumor. These tumors typically start in the bile ducts of the pancreas and are difficult to detect in the early stages.
The disease usually does not cause symptoms in the beginning, and there are no tests currently available that can detect pancreatic cancer in people without symptoms. However, as the cancer advances it can cause fatigue, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, weight loss or back pain. It is important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis because these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. People at increased risk for developing the disease tend to be over the age of 55, smokers, obese, inactive, male, African American, have a family history of pancreatic cancer, or experience chronic inflammation of the pancreas.
Diagnosing pancreatic cancer begins after the doctor takes a health history and completes a physical examination. Certain lab tests may be performed on blood, urine and tissue samples, and imaging tests may be ordered to detect the cancer and/or determine if it has spread. These tests may include a computed tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound, positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), angiography or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. A biopsy may be done to analyze tissue for cancer cells.
Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer generally have three treatment options of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Surgery may be performed to potentially remove all the cancer, or it could be done to alleviate symptoms if the cancer is too widespread. Radiation therapy would be recommended to kill or shrink targeted cancer cells. Chemotherapy is useful to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. These treatments may be used alone or in combination.
Pancreatic cancer is often detected late and, because it spreads quickly, can be difficult to treat. Approximately five percent of patients will live five years after the cancer is diagnosed (20 percent if the cancer is detected before it has spread). That is why it is important for people diagnosed with disease to have as good a quality of life for as long as possible. For more information about pancreatic cancer, visit the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org.
Los Alamitos Medical Center is home to the TotalCare Cancer Center, TotalCare Infusion Center, and TotalCare Imaging Center. Ask your physician how your next diagnostic procedure can be done at TotalCare Imaging Center. This outpatient facility offers quality services in a comfortable environment.