By Philip A. Philip, M.D., Ph.D., FRCP, leader of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Multidisciplinary Team and professor of medicine and oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine
Pancreatic cancer presents a challenge to the oncologists whose patients are diagnosed with the disease. The pancreas is a six-inch long organ that sits across the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. The pancreas uses digestive and intestinal juices to break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It also secretes hormones that affect blood sugar levels.
Because the pancreas is located in the center of the abdomen, deep inside the body, pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose at an early stage. Initial disease symptoms—like jaundice, back pain and digestive problems—are often attributed to other ailments. In many cases, by the time a physician makes a correct diagnosis, the cancer has spread to other organs, significantly reducing the chance for a cure.
More than 44,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed this year and more than 37,000 patients will die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Pancreatic cancer mortality rates have changed little in the past three decades. The five-year patient survival rate is less than 5 percent.
It’s not clear why some people get pancreatic cancer while others don’t. But researchers have identified certain risk factors.
Studies show that cigarette smoking, a diet high in fat and animal protein, and diabetes increase the chance of getting pancreatic cancer. We also know that people with a family history of pancreatic cancer are more likely to get the disease.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapies using cancer-fighting drugs. Karmanos researchers continue to explore methods of early detection and disease prevention.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death. It’s critical that we identify genetic and other risk factors that lead to the disease and develop new therapies for relief of cancer associated symptoms.
For more information about pancreatic and other cancers or to schedule an appointment with a Karmanos doctor, please call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266), e-mail email@example.com or visit www.karmanos.org.