November 19 marks World Pancreatic Cancer Day.
Pancare founder and pancreatic, liver and biliary surgeon, Dr Mehrdad Nikfarjam said pancreatic cancer remained one of the most lethal cancers due to a lack of early detection and effective treatment options.
"Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not changed significantly in nearly 40 years and that is simply not good enough," he said.
"Especially when you consider the progress made in the detection and treatment of so many other cancers over the past four decades.
"We're yet to find effective treatments in the fight against pancreatic cancer, making treatment options we can offer limited. Improvements in treatments are desperately needed, but to further investigate these treatments we need the funding to do so."
In 2020, it is estimated that approximately 3,933 Australians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 3,300 patients will die which is more than the estimated mortality of breast or prostate cancer.
The five year survival rate for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 10.7 percent.
In recent years, pancreatic cancer has claimed the lives of dozens of high-profile individuals including Aretha Franklin, Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, Alan Rickman and more recently, US Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Known as a 'silent killer', pancreatic cancer has the worst outcomes of any of the low survival cancers.
Most patients do not show symptoms until the cancer is big enough to touch the other organs around the pancreas.
The pancreas is a gland located deep in the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine. It makes enzymes that help digestion and hormones that control blood-sugar levels.
Pancreatic cancer begins when abnormal cells in the pancreas grow out of control and form a tumour.
It then spreads into the body of the pancreas, before invading nearby nerves and blood vessels.
Pancreatic cancer may also enter the lymphatic system and spread to other parts of the body.
- There is currently no early detection test for pancreatic cancer.
- Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect due to the location of the pancreas and because symptoms are often overlooked for less serious health issues.
- The majority of patients will be diagnosed when the cancer is already advanced.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms are often vague and easily confused with other diseases.
You may experience more than one of these symptoms, they might be intermittent and could worsen over time.
The key to early detection is knowing the symptoms and risks of pancreatic cancer. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Mid-back pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- New-onset diabetes
- Changes in stools
Due to the lack of research into pancreatic cancer, many treatments and surgeries for the disease are still being trialled.
Pancare encourages patients to do their research and seek opinions from a number of different medical professionals, to ensure the highest chance of survival and recovery.
Pancare Foundation are one of Australia's leading charities committed to inspiring hope, raising awareness and funding research for pancreatic and upper gastrointestinal cancer.
Pancare provide support for people living with cancer and their families from the point of diagnosis through to treatment and beyond. They offer one to one patient support, patient and dietary handbooks on pancreatic cancer, financial assistance to help with travel and accommodation and more.
They also fund world-leading research to increase survival and improve treatment options.
Please see your GP if you have any concerns.
For more information on pancreatic cancer or other upper GI cancers, or to access services visit www.pancare.org.au.
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