Pancreatic Cancer Signs, Symptoms, Stages, Prognosis, Life expectancy and Survival rate


Pancreatic cancer is a malignant tumor which originates from the exocrine segment of the pancreas, as well as ductal cells, while endocrine tumors such as gastrinoma and many others originate from Langerhans’ cells. These are considered to be a separate entity entirely. Adenocarcinomas of the exocrine part of pancreas originate from the ductal cells about 9 times more often than from other cells. About 80% of adenocarcinomas of pancreas begin in the head of this organ. Adenocarcinomas on average appear about with people who are about 55 years old and it’s twice as common with men. It begins as a consequence of uncontrolled growth and multiplication of biologically altered cells of the pancreas. Due to the expanded life expectancy, frequency of pancreatic cancer has also increased. Incidence of pancreatic cancer rolls about 8-10 affected in a group of 100 000 people.

Cigarette smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for pancreatic cancer and about 5-10% of these cancers is hereditary. Pancreatic cancer usually has grim prognosis, even when it’s somehow early diagnosed. It is known that pancreatic cancer tends to spread quickly, being discovered in an advanced stage of the illness, when surgical procedure isn’t possible. Because of all this, a 5 year survival is possible for less than 2% of patients.

According to medical researchers, discovering gene mutations and molecular shifts in the ductal pancreatic cells could be used for an early discovery of pancreatic cancer. Equally to that, it has shown that genetic markers for pancreatic cancer can be found in the routine checkup of the stool, which directs into a possibility of an early discovery of pancreatic cancer.

Chemotherapy after surgery expands pancreatic patient’s life span

A research coming from Germany has shown that application of chemotherapy after surgical removal of pancreatic cancer increases survival chances of patients who are dealing with pancreatic cancer. This therapy should be applied in a period of 6 months after surgery. With such application, survival rate can be improved for about 10%.

It’s also necessary to mention that another research from April of 2013 in Journal of Clinical Oncology magazine has shown that application of chemotherapy combined with an experimental medicine increases the survival rate more than any other single therapy. Unfortunately, despite these advancements in discoveries, the overall prognosis of pancreatic cancer patients is still very grim. Out of all the solid tumors, pancreatic cancer still has the grimmest prognosis of them all. Currently, the best way to reduce fatality rate of pancreatic cancer is its early diagnosis.

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer symptoms are appearing very late so in the moment of diagnosis about 90% of patients has a localized and advanced tumor which has affected the structures of the organ and has therefore spread into the regional lymph nodes or it has already metastases in liver or lungs. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer mostly depend on localization and stage of the tumor itself. The most common symptom of pancreatic cancer is pain which appears in more than 50% of patients, loss of appetite and weight loss.


The pain is usually localized in the upper part of the abdomen; it’s of very numb character and commonly spreading into the back. It can be released by bending forward or taking the fetal position. Rarer symptoms are symptoms of cholangitis, acute pancreatitis as well as bleeding from the upper portion of the digestive system. In advanced stages, a typical mass around the pancreas can be noticed, as well as painful and swollen gallbladder.

Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) of the pancreas are most common diagnosis tools which are being performed all around. In case where CT and MRCP show a metastases issue, percale aspiration of the lesion needs to be taken into consideration to analyze the tissue; if the CT shows a potential tumor or in cases where it doesn’t indicate clearly, MRCP can be used to determine the stage of the tumor more precisely.

With patients who are suffering from obstructive cancer types, endoscopic tomography can be done as the first diagnostic test. Routine laboratory tests are also common, measuring bilirubin and many other indicative factors.

Treatment of pancreatic cancer

As it is the case with many other cancers, early discovery is the key to a successful treatment. Rate of survival is highest with patient who is having very small tumors, less than 3 centimeters. About 80-90% of pancreatic cancer isn’t removable surgically, due to its metastases which have spread into main blood vessels. Depending on the localization of the tumor, Whipple’s operation process tends to be the most common choice.

Post-operative chemotherapy with our without radiation is frequently applied after surgery in order to remove any leftover cancer cells; when treating cancer with chemotherapy, specific biological medications are also applied. It’s necessary to notice that experimental vaccination against pancreatic cancer is still in development, being researched in clinical tests. Vaccination against pancreatic cancer activates the immunological system, whose cells are attacking cancer cells inside the pancreas as well as the entire body.

A supporting pancreatic cancer treatment will reduce cancer symptoms with patients who aren’t able to have their cancer removed surgically, with the main goal of improving general condition and everyday lifestyle of the patient.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat as it is difficult to diagnose

Recently, Steve Jobs has withdrawn from CEO position at Apple Inc., with reason of pancreatic cancer. It’s known that he was treated for this disease, which is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. Oncologists say that pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat as it’s very complicated to diagnose it early. It can grow up to 15 centimeters in length and since it’s located deeply inside the stomach cavity, behind stomach and below the liver, symptoms become obvious once the disease has reached fatal stage.

Some types of pancreatic cancer are commonly appearing inside the same family line, with smoking and alcohol consummation being closely related to this condition, but exact cause is yet unknown.