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Know the Facts and Statistics

Pancreatic cancer know no bounds ... it can strike anybody, at anytime.

It is estimated that 4,800 Canadians (48,960 in the US and more than 338,000 worldwide) will be diagosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015; approximately 4,600 Canadians (40,560 in the US) will die. 

It is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related death in Canada and the United States and the lifetime probability of developing pancreatic cancer is approximately 1 in 79.

It has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers – 92% of patients die within 5 years of their diagnosis and 75% of patients die within the first year.

It is the only leading cancer killer with a 5 year survival rate still in the single digits at 8% and the survival rate has not improved in the last 40 years.

It is referred to as a silent killer – it’s difficult to detect and spreads so quickly. Vague symptoms including back/abdominal pain, jaundice and nausea usually appear after the cancer is at an advanced stage making it difficult to treat.

More than 95% of pancreatic cancers are classified as exocrine tumors. These tumors start in the exocrine cells that make pancreatic enzymes that help in digestion. Within this category, the vast majority of tumors(90%) are adenocarcinomas where the cancer begins in cells lining the pancreatic duct.

Few patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have identifiable risk factors.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose, and the diagnosis is often made late in the disease course. Symptoms include weight loss, back pain and jaundice.

Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are encouraged to seek out clinical trials to improve pancreatic cancer treatment.

There are no detection tools to diagnose this disease in its early stages when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible. Surgery offers the best chance for long term survival. Only 15% of patients are diagnosed early enough to be eligible for surgery. The most common form of surgery for removal of a pancreatic tumor is the whipple procedure and may be followed with chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy/radiation.

For the patients who are not surgical candidates, chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy with radiation is typically offered. Chemotherapy after surgery can lower the chances of the cancer returning. Chemotherapy for metastatic pancreatic cancer can extend life and improve the quality of life for people with the disease.

Approximately 52% of all patients are diagnosed when the disease has spread to surrounding organs leaving little hope for survival (only 2% will survive five years).

Three drugs are currently being used to treat pancreatic cancer: gemcitabine (Gemzar®) and erlotinib (Tarceva). Folfirinox has been recently approved as a form of first-line treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer in British Columbia and Ontario and case by case in selected provinces (Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec). in 2015, funding for Abraxane with Gemcitabine in all provinces but Quebec was approved (Quebec is currently under review). While these treatments can be beneficial in treating some patients, they are not considered curative.

 

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