Pancreatic Cancer: What to Know

I remember as a teenager watching the movie “Dirty Dancing” and swooning over Patrick Swayze. For almost a decade he was my heart throb and I would dance around the house “having the time of my life”. I can also remember the day Sally Ride became the first female in space.  To this day she is still one of my heroes.

As boring as it was as a child, I listened to my parent’s blast the songs of Luciano Pavarotti in my home. As I grew older I found myself falling in love with his music and growing to stand in awe of his voice. I can also remember gathering around the TV to watch “Highway to Heaven” and reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” and thinking that Michael Landon was the best actor ever.

And finally how could I not think of and thank Steve Jobs every day! As I type away on my iPhone and shoot off emails on my iPad, I have come to realize what a genius Steve Jobs really was and how he beat the odds as the tech world considered him crazy.

The saddest thing about the commonality of my random memories above is that even the largest of heroes and geniuses could not win the battle with the cancer they all shared.  Along with all the amazing people mentioned above, Joan Crawford, Donna Reed, Syd Barrett, Fred Gwynne, Alan Bates, Fernando Lamas and the 41,780 Americans a year who have lost their life to pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer carries with it one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers and yet it is one of the least researched and least talked about cancers we deal with. It currently is the 3rd leading cause of cancer death in the world and is projected to be the 2ndleading cause by the year 2030.

Pancreatic cancer often has no symptoms until the advanced stages and because little has been discovered about its biology we have no early detection tools to find it early. Once patients are diagnosed, the average survival is three-to-six months without treatment. Only about one-third of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are able to undergo surgical resection and have a shot at a cure.

The discussion I have in my office when patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer never gets any easier and every day I pray for new developments in early diagnosis and identifying its risk factors.

So, despite the grim picture and statistics above, there is hope. With growing awareness of pancreatic cancers lethal course, more and more research has started to be conducted. Studies are well underway to identify tumor markers for early detection and new targeted chemotherapy agents are being studied to help improve survival and prevent recurrence after surgery. As surgeons at the Center for Advanced Surgical Oncology, we have developed minimally invasive techniques for not only treatment and resection, but also for diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer requires a team of surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, nutritionists and caring staff to treat it. As we wait for new treatments, diagnostic tools and break through, our team works hard to battle this lethal malignancy with every resource we have.

If you know someone who has or may have pancreatic cancer and would like to get involved or know more, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is a phenomenal resource.  As a hepatopancreaticobiliary surgeon, it is my life’s work to treat and help patients struggling with this disease. If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment you can also call the Center for Advanced Surgical Oncology at 305-820-6657.  It is my hope that pancreatic cancer moves down on the leading cause of death list, and with more resources, research and awareness, it will.