Pancreatic cancer treatment has limited success: by the time the cancer is diagnosed, most pancreas tumors have already reached advanced stages. A number of factors account for late detection of pancreas tumors. Symptoms only develop in advanced stages of the disease and when they do appear, they are often vague. For instance, jaundice, weight loss and abdominal pain, which are common symptoms for this disease, can also be caused by a wide range of other health problems.
The location of the pancreas also hinders early detection of growing tumors. The gland is buried deep in the abdomen, where the stomach, the small intestines, the liver and other organs surround it. This makes a physical palpation of the gland nearly impossible. A quick, routine test for pancreas neoplasms does not exist.
Survival Rates Explained. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 28,600 Americans were diagnosed with pancreatic tumors in 1999. The expected death rate from the disease was almost equal to the number of people diagnosed, due in part to the need for more effective pancreatic cancer treatment. Pancreatic tumors are the fifth leading cause of carcinoma-related deaths, despite being the eighth most commonly diagnosed tumors.
Greater than ninety percent of pancreatic tumors are adenocarcinomas—aggressive, fast growing tumors that begin in the cells that line the ducts and tubes of the gland. Often the disease has spread to other organs, or metastasized, by the time the disease is detected. Once the disease spreads, palliative care may be the only treatment option.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options
Your oncologist will recommend the course or courses of treatment that are best for you condition. But chances are you’ll still have to do some research on your own before making a treatment decision. You’ll find all the pertinent information in one place: the Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Decision Tool.
If the tumor is confined to the pancreas when diagnosed, surgical removal of the diseased tissue is the only possible cure. However, only ten to fifteen percent of all adenocarcinomas are localized when detected. If surgery is an option, five-year survival rates are only fourteen percent.
If surgery is not an option, life expectancy drops to less than six months. The average five-year survival rate for all pancreatic carcinomas is four percent.
Clinical Trials: Searching for a Cancer Cure. Clinical trials are a vital part of the search for a more effective cancer cure. Any new treatment, medication or screening device needs to be proven to the satisfaction of the FDA before it becomes accessible to the American public. Clinical trials determine the safety and effectiveness of proposed treatments.
The search for an effective early screening program for pancreatic tumors is one of the main goals of clinical trials. The earlier adenocarcinomas are detected, the greater the chance that surgery will cure the disease. In order for this to happen, clinical trials require large numbers of people willing to volunteer their time.