Surviving Pancreatic Cancer

Though it may not be as common as other forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. But at Erlanger, it is no longer thought of as the “death sentence” it used to be.

Your pancreas is a small but complex gland that resembles the shape of a pear lying on its side, tucked behind the stomach. As a dual-functioning gland, it performs both exocrine (aiding in the digestion of proteins, fats, and carbs) and endocrine (secreting hormones to control blood sugar levels) functions. When cancer cells form in the pancreas, they are most often found in its ducts — which produce digestive enzymes. This type of cancer is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma, more simply referred to as “pancreatic cancer.” Though rare, cancer cells can also form in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas, which is referred to as islet or pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer.

A patient’s best course of action is to seek treatment at a major medical center — like Erlanger Health System — from a team of specialists with extensive experience in dealing with this type of cancer.

How can pancreatic cancer be treated?

Surgery is the only known cure for this deadly disease, but at Erlanger, every cancer case that comes through our doors is reviewed by a team of oncologists, radiologists, and other specialists to ensure that every patient receives the right form of treatment for his or her specific case. This approach ensures a comprehensive level of care not found anywhere else in the region.

Radiation and/or chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery or independently, when surgical removal is not possible. A pain management system may be established for chronic pain.

According to Hepatopancreatobiliary & General Surgeon, Dr. Jacob Dowden, “If surgical resection is complete and the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, up to 25% of people can live at least five years after surgery, and long-term survival of at least ten years is possible.”

Why is pancreatic cancer considered to be so fatal?

Once symptoms do occur, they are often vague and treated as symptoms of other conditions.

Because it is usually caught in advanced stages — and over half of those diagnosed are over age 70 experiencing other health conditions — many patients aren’t eligible for surgery. This is why it is so vital to seek help at a major medical center.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms may include:

  • Upper abdominal and/or back pain
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Darkened urine
  • Light colored stools

Since many other diseases and conditions may cause similar symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away if you experience any of the above.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a specialist, please call 423-778-2564.