Healthy Living

Is Pancreatic Cancer Terminal?

Is Pancreatic Cancer Terminal?

Key Takeaways

  • Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest diseases.
  • Pancreatic cancer does not respond well to treatment. 
  • Prognosis/ how an affected person responds to treatment depends on the type of pancreatic cancer. 

Is Pancreatic Cancer Terminal?

Do you know the survival rate for pancreatic cancer? Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, and it is a leading cause of death in the United States of America. Every year 45,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. and around 90,000 cases are diagnosed in the United Kingdom. Understanding the condition is the first step in managing its symptoms.

As the pancreas lies deep within the body, pancreatic cancer is usually detected only after it has progressed considerably. Symptoms take time to manifest and are usually discovered in more advanced forms of the condition. Once pancreatic cancer has reached an advanced stage, it spreads (metastasis) easily to other parts of your body. This reduces the survival rate drastically. In such cases it is treated with medicines and radiation therapy as surgery becomes impossible. But, it has been found that pancreatic cancer seldom responds well to treatment by medicines and radiation therapy.

Most of the people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not survive after the first year, however there are some exceptions:

  • If the cancer is left untreated, the affected person may survive 3 ½ months on average
  • With proper treatment, the patient may survive an average of 6 months
  • 20% of the people may survive up to a year
  • 4% of people may survive up to 5 years after diagnosis
  • Survival rate has improved over the past 10 to 15 years.

Thanks to advanced treatments, survival rate has increased and the fatalities associated with pancreatic cancer reduced. Statistics only indicate the prognosis of the mass population affected by the condition. Each case requires specialized treatment.

Prognosis involves the patient's reaction to a specific medication, and ways to manage associated symptoms. If the patient responds poorly to a specific medication, appropriate measures can then be taken to find a new treatment regimen for them.

Exocrine tumor:

Pancreatic exocrine tumor is the most common form of pancreatic cancer. They account to 95% of pancreatic tumors. These are difficult to cure and have a projected survival rate of less than 6%.

Adenocarcinoma:

Adenocarcinoma is an exocrine tumor that grows and starts in the glands that line one of your organs. While this can happen in any organ, it usually begins in the colon, pancreas, breasts, lungs or prostate.

Exocrine tumors which are less common: 

Exocrine tumor which are less common to occur are Signet ring cell carcinomas, Adenosquamous carcinomas, Squamous cell carcinomas, and undifferentiated carcinomas with giant cells.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors:These are also called NETs/PNETs or Islet cell tumors. They account for less than 5% of all pancreatic tumors. These tumors have the following characteristics:

  • They can either be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are those which are local. Their actions are limited to the particular part of body where they are formed. They don’t spread to other parts of the body. They can be surgically removed most of the times and generally have a good prognosis.Malignant tumors on the other hand, are those which spread to other parts of your body. Prognosis is not good with these tumors.
  • NETs (Neuroendocrine Tumors) develop from an abnormal growth of hormone producing cells in the Pancreas. Hormones are chemical substances meant to perform specific functions in your body.
  • Few NETs produce more hormones. They are called Functional NETs. They produce symptoms that are in line with hormone functions.
  • Few NETs don’t produce hormones. These are called non-functional NETS. They do not produce symptoms related to hormones. When these grow, you feel pain or can develop jaundice. These are malignant most of the times.

Here’s a list of NETs, classified based on the severity of the tumor, their prognosis and the hormones produced:

  • Vipomas: They are also called as Verner-Morrison Syndrome and produce a hormone called vasoactive intestinal peptide. Vipomas are benign but are highly susceptible to becoming malignant.
  • Somatostatinoma: They produce a hormone, Somatostatin. They are also benign but highly prone to become malignant.
  • Glucagonoma: Glucagonoma produces Glucagon. This type is usually malignant.
  • Insulinoma:They produce Insulin. Most of the time, they are benign. They are difficult to diagnose because are small in nature.
  • Gastrinoma: They produce Gastrin. Most of the times, they are malignant. Sometimes they are found as a part of the syndrome called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 1 (MEN1)

As devastating as a cancer diagnosis can be, it is important for the individual to have coping and support methods, whether it is through the help of family members or therapy sessions. Understanding the diagnosis fully is important when managing symptoms, and expectations. Not knowing is often times more frightening than knowing. Asking your doctor any relevant questions you may have about your diagnosis can help ease your mind when managing a serious condition.

Apart from assembling a team of friends and family, connecting with other survivors of pancreatic or other forms of cancer can make a difference to your mood and they way you cope with the cancer. By discussing symptoms and pains that affect these people similarly, can help create empathy for both parties.

While cancer is much harder to prevent due to conditions that are aggravated by environmental factors, pancreatic cancer and other cancers can be inhibited to some extent by making certain lifestyle changes.

One of the most important steps you can take is to stop smoking. It is not an easy task to accomplish, especially if the individual has been smoking for upwards of a decade. Going cold turkey is always an option, but the truth is the addictive nature of tobacco reduces the likelihood of this treatment method working. Because of this, there are multiple treatment options you should consider. Just like with pancreatic cancer, there are support groups and strategies you and doctor can implement to combat your cancer.

There are particular risk factors which make a person more susceptible to pancreatic cancer. It is known that African-American individuals are more likely to suffer from pancreatic and colon cancer. Studies are currently being done to determine the difference in their tissues, and why these cancers tend to be more prominent among them.

Underlying risk factors can be genetic and environmental. Some of which include obesity, or diabetes. Genetics play a role in cancer development, and certain gene mutations enable conditions such as Lynch syndrome or melanoma, as well as pancreatic cancer. Certain chronic conditions like inflammation of the pancreas can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

Alternative options to consider

While there are no proven alternative methods for treating pancreatic cancer, there are some things that you can practice to help deal with your cancer. These activities or tasks will compliment an already existent treatment regimen. This is why it is so important to discuss your feelings with your doctor, friends and family. By simply identifying these feelings, you can get some perspective and allow yourself to manage the distress and discomfort associated with pancreatic cancer.

Some of these methods might seem ridiculous, or not worth the effort. Understand that there is a reason for each of these complimentary treatment approaches, and that they will serve to improve your mood and energy levels.Art and music therapy can have tremendous effects on the brain and your mood, and subsequently the treatment of a condition. Of course, exercise and relaxation therapy is stressed as a treatment option for many patients as well, but many patients find comfort in meditation techniques as opposed to exercise and other therapies.

If you have a history of pancreatic cancer running in your family, then it is important you receive genetic testing to determine the likelihood of you developing this cancer yourself. Speak to your doctor about genetic testing, because early detection, diagnosis, and prevention are the most effective ways of handling a serious disease such as pancreatic cancer.