Pancreatic Cancer Explained
Fast Facts - Pancreatic Cancer
- Difficult to diagnose
- Spreads very easily
- Diagnosis is often late in the disease
- Surgery is the only cure to remove the cancer
- Chemotherapy only lowers the reccurrence risk "after surgery"
- Radiation targets the tumor
- Average life expectancy is six to nine months
Links - Tests For Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- CT-guided needle biopsy:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- Ultrasonography (ultrasound)
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Blood tests
- Biopsy of tumor
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
Published January 11, 2014 by Mary McShane
There are several types of pancreatic cancer
- lymphomas or unclassified types -4%
Exocrine Tumors - 95% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have adenocarcinoma, which starts in ducts of the pancreas.
Most common - Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) - starts as non-cancerous but can become cancerous if lleft untreated. It is a tumor that grows within the ducts of the pancreas and sometimes is already a cancer by the time it is diagnosed.
More rare types of exocrine pancreatic tumors
- acinar cell carcinoma
- adenosquamous carcinoma
- colloid carcinoma
- giant cell tumor
- hepatoid carcinoma
- mucinous cystic neoplasms
- serous cystadenoma
- signet ring cell carcinoma
- solid and pseudopapillary tumors
- squamous cell carcinoma
- undifferentiated carcinoma
Endocrine Tumors - also called islet cell tumors or pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumors (PNETs). Much less common than exocrine tumors. Can be functioning (making hormones) or non-functioning. A functioning neuroendocrine tumor gets its name from the hormone that the cells make:
Links - Pancreatic Cancer Treatments
- Calcium Pump
- Drug - Gemzar
- Drugs Sutent And Afinitor
- Ablative techniques
- Whipple Surgical Procedure
- Smokers have double the risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to non smokers.
- Family history of pancreatitis,
- Family history of obesity
- Family history of diabetes
- Drinking coffee
- Drinking alcohol
Eat less fat, more fruits and vegetables and increase exercise
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
Unfortunately, by the time symptoms develop, pancreatic cancer has already begun to spread outside of the pancreas. The type of symptoms one has determines the type of pancreatic cancer that is growing.
Pancreatic cancer in the head of the pancreas (usually this type appears first)
- weight loss
- jaundice (yellow skin)
- dark urine
- light stool color
- abdominal pain
- back pain
- enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
Pancreatic cancer in the body or tail of the pancreas - this type is consider the silent type because it occurs later making the disease harder to diagnose:
- belly and/or back pain
- weight loss
Public Service Announcement from Randy Pausch
Famous People Who Fought Pancreatic Cancer
- Patrick Swayze
- Sally Ride
- Rex Harrison
- Randy Pausch
- Donna Reed
- Luciano Pavarotti
- Michael Landon
- Dizzy Gillespie
- Steve Jobs
- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Jack Benny
- Ben Gazzara
- Fred Gwynne - played Herman Munster
- Margaret Mead
- Joan Crawford
- Count Basie
- Henry Mancini
About Pancreatic Cancer Testing & Research
I think the hardest thing to understand about Pancreatic Cancer is that it can go undetected for a long time and that by the time it is detected, it is often in advanced stages and too late for surgical intervention. It is a very aggressive cancer, one of the most lethal. Once diagnosed, researchers believe the patient has had it for as long as six months before being diagnosed.
Dr. Nita Ahuja, an associate professor of surgery in the department of oncology and urology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore said in an October 2013 interview that there have been no improvements in the survival rate in the last 40 years. Over 40,000 people per year are diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and as many as that die of it each year.
In a study, Dr. Ahuja's team identified mutations in two genes, called BNC1 and ADAMST1, which are found in 97% of early stage pancreatic cancer tissues. The team developed tests to look for signs of mutations in people who were already diagnosed with the disease. The report said the test has an 81% accuracy rate and at present is only being used on patients already diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is not ready for the general population as a screening.
NEW Test for early stage pancreatic cancer
Jack Andraka is today a seventeen year old high school student who, at age 15, invented in his home basement, a test to diagnose early stage pancreatic cancer. He likens it to a fingerstick or dipstick test as you would do for sugar in the blood - diabetes.
Working with Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins Medical School, his test has proven to be 90 percent accurate in detecting mesothelin, a soluble cancer biomarker. The test claims to be 400 times more sensitive than present methods and costs about three cents as opposed to $800 for the standard test. He has a patent on the test and hopes to sell it to pharmaceutical companies to be developed as an over-the-counter test.
Jack has his naysayers who refute his claims that mesothelin is specifically a biomarker for pancreatic cancer and only a supervised trial will make believers out of them. That needs sponsors and costs money and according to Dr. Maitra, he is hopeful that a trial will come about in the very near future.
TED Presentation: Jack Andraka
The next video shows Jack Andraka at a TED Talks presentation discussing how he came to invent his test for pancreatic cancer and where he goes from here.
© Mary McShane
Jack Andraka: His New Test For Pancreatic Cancer
Final Word: From Randy Pausch's Wife, Jai
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Mary McShane
Mary McShane (author) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on January 22, 2014:
@PegCole 17 - Thank you for your visit and your comment :)
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on January 22, 2014:
This is important information and explains a lot about the disease. Thanks for the clear and understandable explanation.
Mary McShane (author) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on January 15, 2014:
@torrilynn - Thank you for your visit and comment. :)
torrilynn on January 15, 2014:
Thanks for raising awareness about this particular cancer and this young mans efforts to make an early detection test.
Mary McShane (author) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on January 13, 2014:
@Missy Mac - I'm sorry about your Mom but I thank you for your visit, comment and compliment.
Missy Mac from Illinois on January 13, 2014:
It has been several years now: My mother had the pancreas and partial organ removal. Thanks for the thorough research and great hub.
Mary McShane (author) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on January 12, 2014:
@Jodah - I also know people who have died from pancreatic cancer, so swiftly that it makes their death that much harder to bear. A girl I worked with for over 15 years celebrated her 55th birthday in May, was diagnosed in August and was dead by Christmas. This cancer kills that fast. In this article, I featured Randy Pausch and his story is probably one of the most well known so that he has become the face for this disease.
I too hope Jack Andraka's test becomes available soon so it can start saving lives. But as with most things medical in the USA, bureaucratic red tape seems to keep these things from being swiftly made available to the public. Sometimes it takes other countries to accept a test, surgery or invention before the USA jumps on the bandwagon. I'm hoping for a speedy outcome, for everyone's sake. Thank you for your comment.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 11, 2014:
Very informative and necessary hub Mary. I know people who have died of pancreatic cancer. It happened so quickly after they were diagnosed it is scary. I hope jack Andraka's invention/test is treated seriously and becomes recognised and used.
Mary McShane (author) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on January 11, 2014:
@RTalloni - You are so right, very impressive.
He is obviously a genius, as is his older brother, who has great achievements in his own right. I expect we'll be hearing a lot about and from Jack Andraka. Thank you for your comment. :)
Mary McShane (author) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on January 11, 2014:
@billybuc - Thanks for reading, Bill and for your comment :)
RTalloni on January 11, 2014:
I saw Jack Andraka's Ted Talk a while back--so impressive. Thanks for highlighting the efforts to move forward on this disease.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2014:
Great information Mary! Raising awareness about these issues is so important. Early detection, knowing your body, knowing the options...all so very important.