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Pancreatic Cancer Questions and Answers

Q&A: Questions and Answers About Pancreatic Cancer

How many people in the USA get pancreatic cancer each year?

Statistics vary by study, but all are in the same range of about 49,000 per year (2015) About 40,000 die per year. Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of all cancers.

Can pancreatic cancer be prevented?

NO. But there are ways to lower potential risk. Most studies agree that smoking, obesity, type 2 diabetes and chronic alcohol abuse are significant risk factors. Read more about pancreatic cancer risk factors.

Can cancer of the pancreas be hereditary?

Yes. Pancreatic cancer is a genetic disease caused by mutations (changes) in DNA. The changes can be inherited or acquired after birth. Some studies show that about 10% of pancreatic cancer cases are due to blood-family predisposition. The balance of cases are random bad luck that could be instigated by risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, obesity and extreme alcohol abuse.

Are there genetic hereditary screening tests for predisposed increased risk?

Some studies show that 10% of diagnosed cases are related to genetic predisposition where there is a strong blood-family history of pancreatic cancer. If there is, discuss predisposition screening options with your physician.

Are there routine detection tests for pancreatic cancer?

There are no early detection tests for the general population to discover pancreatic cancer when it’s most treatable. Those with prominent symptoms, particularly when high risk factors exist should see a doctor to explore imaging options. A “CA19-9” is a blood test option. It is primarily used to measure progression of the disease in those that have already been diagnosed, but is only about 80% accurate in identifying the initial existence of pancreatic cancer.

Do races have differing levels of risk?

The incidence rates per 100,000 Males are Black (17.2), White (14.0), American Indian (12.6), Hispanic (12.2) and Asian (10.7). The rate among 100,00 Females are Black (14.2), White (10.7), Hispanic (10.2), American Indian (9.1), and Asian (8.9). Overall, Blacks are at greatest risk while Asians are at least risk. Read more about Blacks are at Greatest Risk.

Why do Blacks in America have a greater risk of pancreatic cancer?

The incidence rate in the US is about 35% to 90% higher among Blacks versus Whites depending varying studies. That is a huge disparity. Cigarette smoking is higher than whites. Obesity and elevated body mass index is higher among Blacks which are the primary contributors to onset type 2 diabetes, which by some studies doubles the risk. It is interesting to note the incidence rates among countries in Africa are among the lowest in the world, yet incidence rate in America are among the world’s highest.

Are there differing incidence rates among men versus women?

Yes. Across all races, women are at less risk than men. New cases per 100,000 people is 10.9 versus men at 14.0. The difference is likely because a larger percentage of men smoke than women and women typically live more healthy lifestyles including diet and regular exercise. Women are more attentive to healthcare.

What age groups are more prone to diagnosis of pancreatic cancer?

The median age at diagnosis is about 71. Percentage by age range: 35-44 (2.1%), 45-54 (9.4%), 55-64 (21.5%), 65-74 (26.3%), 75-74 (26.8%), and more 84 years of age (13.4%). But consider this fact. It takes 10-11 years for a first mutated pancreatic cancer cell to develop and about 7-10 years for cell replicate to create a tumor the size of a plum. On that basis, the genesis of the cancer can begin 17-21 years earlier than is diagnosed.

Can pancreatic cancer to be treated with surgery?

Most often surgery to remove a cancerous pancreas tumor is only performed when the cancer is still completely contained within the pancreas. In the overwhelming number of cases, the cancer has already spread to other organs at diagnosis making patients non-candidates for surgery. In some cases a doctor may still recommend surgery for palliative reasons. Read more about Whipple Surgery.

What types of surgical procedures treat pancreatic cancer?

If applicable, potential surgery depends upon where the tumor is located within the pancreas, whether it has spread and other factors determined by the oncologist and the surgeon. Sometimes even though the cancer has spread, surgery may be an option to minimize symptoms and pain to achieve better remaining quality of life.

Who has the greatest risk of pancreatic cancer?

Those with two or more blood relatives who have had pancreatic cancer are a greater risk. Other major risk factors are cigarette smoking, chronic pancreatitis, and type 2 diabetes. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are also at high risk.

What are the 5-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer?

It primarily depends on the diagnosed stage. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of any tumor-type cancer. If it diagnosed at Stage 1 (confined to the pancreas), the rate is almost 26% but only about 8% of case are discovered at stage 1. If it has spread to regional lymph nodes, the rate drops to about 10%. If it has metastasized (spread) to distant organs like the liver, the 5-year survival rate is drastic 2.5%. There is a tenfold difference in average survival rate between Stage 1 and Stage 4 Distant.

Does living a healthy lifestyle reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer?

Absolutely. A healthy diet, active physical exercise, and maintaining proper weight will reduce the potential of getting type 2 diabetes which is a major risk factor. Avoiding abuse of alcohol diminishes the chance of developing chronic pancreatitis which is also a a major risk. Most studies show that cigarette smoking will double the risk.

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