Steve Jobs had it. Patrick Swayze had it. Luciano Pavarotti had it. All three died of pancreatic cancer, a stealthy form of the disease that often remains undetected until it is too late. While celebrity diagnoses of pancreatic cancer raise awareness of this deadly disease, research is often severely underfunded, because pancreatic cancer is not as common as other cancers, and because of its high mortality rate.
Here are the top ten facts you didn’t know about pancreatic cancer:
- Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most commonly diagnosed cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The disease is so deadly because there are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
- Pancreatic cancer is not very common. About 40,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the United States, compared to more than 215,000 cases of lung cancer and 185,000 cases of breast cancer.
- Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. Ninety-four percent of patients will die within five years of diagnosis. Nearly three-quarters of patients die within the first year of diagnosis. If the disease metastasizes and spreads to other organs, life expectancy drops to just three to six months.
- Pancreatic cancer becomes metastatic quickly, meaning it is in the advanced stages and has spread to other organs. More than half of patients are diagnosed when the disease has already metastasized.
- Pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers for which survival has not markedly improved over nearly 40 years. Since 1975, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer has risen from 3 percent to 6 percent. In fact, pancreatic cancer is the only one of the top 10 cancer killers that still has a five-year survival rate in the single digits.
- There are several known risk factors for pancreatic cancer: being older, smoking or past smoking, having diabetes, being male, being African-American, having a family history of the cancer, and having chronic pancreatitis. Obesity and diet may also be risk factors.
- Ninety percent of people suffering from pancreatic cancer are 55 years old and older.
- An estimated 37,660 people died from pancreatic cancer in the past year.
- Pancreatic cancer is on the rise. The number of new cases is projected to increase by 55 percent between now and 2030.
- Early detection is difficult because symptoms are so vague. Symptoms include: pain in the upper abdomen or back, loss of appetite and/or weight loss, nausea and vomiting, jaundice, weakness and changes in stool.
These facts help illustrate why pancreatic cancer is so serious, and why we shouldn’t wait for the next celebrity diagnosis to make us pay attention. Do what you can today to help fight pancreatic cancer.
This year, the Bucks County Chapter of Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Board of Associates is holding their gala event on April 20, 2013, and the evening’s Special Pledge will raise funds to fight pancreatic cancer. As the gala event approaches, organizers hope to shine a light on this serious illness, bringing attention and much-needed funding to help eradicate it. For more information on the Chapter and the event, visit www.BCCFCCC.org.
About the contributor: Lauren Eckstein is a freelance writer from New Hope, PA.