Battling a challenging cancer

Dr. Philip A. Philip

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 or visit


2 Responses to “Battling a challenging cancer”

  1. 1 Noah Berkowitz February 10, 2012 at 3:23 am

    I am kind a shock to know that there 44, 000 people are diagnosed of having pancreatic cancer and 37, 000 are dying?! How much more for this year 2012? If the number of people who died of that disease will decrease for this year, well that’s a good sign and only shows that most of the treatment are successful and needs to continue. Hope that you will continue to give updates for this topic it very interesting to know

    • 2 karmanosconquerscancer February 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      Thank you, Dr. Berkowitz, for your comments and your interest in my blog on pancreatic cancer. It appears that new pancreatic cancer cases and deaths will be down only slightly for 2012 – 43,390 estimated new cases and 37,390 deaths due to pancreatic cancer, in contrast to 2011 statistics of 44,030 new cases and 37,660 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. This underscores the tremendous need for us in the medical community to develop better therapies and continue research into detecting pancreatic cancer early enough so that it can be treated effectively. With improvements in our understanding of the molecular biology of pancreatic cancer and the increasing number of novel drugs that target specific abnormalities in cancer cells we are very optimistic that we will see advances in treating this disease in the coming years. We’ll keep you and our Karmanos Conquers Cancer blog readers posted on the latest pancreatic cancer research conducted at our Institute. Thank you again for your interest and feedback.

      Dr. Philip A. Philip

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