SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Thursday is World Pancreatic Cancer Day and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the world's deadliest.
Dr. Charles Conway, MD, FACS, a Surgical Oncologist and Pancreatic Cancer Specialist at the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center in Santa Barbara said some of the more common cancers like breast cancer and lung cancer impact more than 200,00 patients a year in the U.S.; pancreatic cancer afflicts roughly 50,000.
"The difference though, is that the number of patients who will die is quite close to that number," Dr. Conway said. "It is one of the more deadly types of tumors that folks will get."
The pancreas has two key functions: endocrine, which makes hormones (insulin being the most important) and exocrine, which helps digest food.
Dr. Conway said early symptoms are non-specific, which is why this type of cancer is hard to catch early.
"Folks will just kind of feel fatigued, maybe they'll lose their appetite, sometimes they will lose some weight. Eventually, if the tumor gets big enough, it'll block of a duct that runs through the pancreas, most commonly it's the bile duct and folks will turn jaundice where they'll get yellowing of the skin."
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg completed treatment for pancreatic cancer this summer. And, Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek, recently launched a PSA campaign to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer. Singer Aretha Franklin, Astronaut Sally Ride and Actor Patrick Swayze are all public figures who lost their battle with the disease over the years.
Dr. Conway said the exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, however, genetics, smoking, or obesity are often linked. Dr. Conway said improvements have been made when it comes to funding at the government level, as well as treatment therapies.
"We still don't cure folks that the tumor has spread outside the pancreas but for someone who can have surgery and it appears confined to the pancreas, five year survival is 35 to close to 40% now," Dr. Conway said. "Not long ago it was 10 to 15."
Dr. Conrad said for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it is vital that they are treated by a strong team at a facility, like Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, that has a pancreatic program.
"We're able to diagnose pre-cancerous cysts now, we know which lesions will become cancerous. Most of the time this is done with pre-endoscopic ultrasounds, which we have in town now," Dr. Conway said. "We can actually remove cysts before they become cancers so some of those patients are being cured. Surgery has become safer and chemotherapy has gotten much better as well."
For more information about pancreatic cancer, click here: http://www.worldpancreaticcancerday.org/
For more information about Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, click here: https://www.ridleytreecc.org/cancer-center