Pancreatic cancer is the #4 leading cancer in the country. This disease can be treated; however, it’s not effective. The reason being is 80% of the time it’s found too late with the cancer spreading and leaving little to no options, including surgery. Like prostate cancer, if you can’t treat it surgically, you can’t cure the patient. Most patients present a silent painless jaundice appearance. By the time this happens the patient has turned yellow and it’s too late to do anything. We need to find a test that can detect pancreatic cancer early. Currently, there is a blood test marker called CA-19-9; however, this test isn’t effective enough to cure patients and decrease the amount of deaths per year. The CA-19-9 tumor marker has been around for a long time. 80% of the patients that have pancreatic cancer have CA-19-9, the question is who is walking out there with this cancer that we don’t know about.
45,000 patients were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 38,000 died 2013.
Who are the people at risk?
Males over the age of 45 with a family history, you are at risk and you should speak with your doctor so that you can be screened.
Where is the Pancreas?
The pancreas is a 6-inch organ located under the stomach. This is a very unique organ in the sense that it’s hard to get to and hard to examine. Unlike the liver and other organs they are easy to locate and examine.
The pancreas is a double organ, one side makes insulin and the other side is called exocrine, which makes digestive hormones that can eventually become cancerous.
“Surgery is the treatment of choice, when we find it; in the experience hands of a surgeon laparoscopically it’s a curable disease followed by radiation and chemotherapy”, say Dr. Samadi Chairman, Department of Urology and Chief of Robotic at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Research has taken a different direction and going with immunotherapeutics. Until recently, scientists were faced with a tough time getting to the cancer cells, as they are surrounded by shell like a cocoons which makes it hard to get to the cancer cells. Now with research going towards immunotherapy, this method breaks the shell and gets the chemo into the cancer cells and gives the patient a better outcome.
Other research that is being conducted is looking at genetic factors which is looking at RNA, which alerts the body that it’s making a tumor. Genetics is the way of the future, to be able to diagnose a patient and catch the disease before it gets out of reach where surgery or treatment can’t be done. However, these two clinical studies are still being studied and won’t be available for the next 2 – 5 years.
Now that we’ve taken a different direction with research improving how we diagnose pancreatic cancer this will help doctors screen patients earlier and treat the patient sooner, with hopes of lowering the percentage of deaths a year and give the patients more options of beating this disease.