Pancreatic cancer: Diagnosis, treatment and survival

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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A majority of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will succumb to the disease. But, Dr. Dennis Johnson, a surgical oncologist in York, PA says that there are long-term survivors and treatment shouldn't be dismissed when a person is diagnosed.  Norma Warfel, one of Dr. Johnson’s patients, has survived for ten years and is looking forward to another ten.

pancreas_and_nearby_organsWhat is the function of the pancreas?  
The pancreas is a gland organ in the digestive and endocrine that produces several important hormones, including insulin as well as a digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that assist the absorption of nutrients and the digestion in the small intestine. 

Pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose in its early stages and is oftentimes called a "silent" disease because the symptoms are so vage and subtle.  Symptoms like back and abdominal pain, digestive problems and weightloss may be confused for other problems.  It is often diagnosed at later stages when more obvious symptoms like jaundice, pain and blood clots are noticed.  

Although pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, Dr. Johnson says that surgery and treatment can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.

Scroll down to learn more from Dr. Johnson and hear Norma's survivor story. 

Those who have a family member with the disease are at much higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer and should talk to a doctor if they start to notice any symptoms or suspect cancer.


Other risk factors include:

  • The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age
  • Smoking
  • Diets low in vegetables and fruits
  • Diets high in red meat
  • Diets high in sugar-sweetened drinks Obesity
  • Diabetes 
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Chronic Helicobacter pylori infection
  • Gingivitis or periodontal disease

steve-jobs-pancreatic-cancerNovember is recognized worldwide as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.  High-profile people like Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze, who both lost their battles with pancreatic cancer, have helped to raise awareness about the disease.  Although pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death across the globe, many people don’t know much about it. There is a lot of research yet to be done, but doctors say with new genetic testing techniques and better delivery methods of chemotherapy and radiation, they will move towards curing more people and will better understand ways of preventing it.

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