Pancreatic Cancer: Apple Founder Steve Jobs Battled Pancreatic Cancer for Years
Pancreatic cancer usually goes undetected until it's advanced. By the time symptoms occur, diagnosing pancreatic cancer is usually relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, a cure is rarely possible at that point. Diagnosing pancreatic cancer usually happens when someone comes to the doctor after experiencing weeks or months of symptoms. Pancreatic cancer symptoms frequently include abdominal pain, weight loss, or jaundice (yellow skin).
Pancreatic cancer has gained attention from the diagnoses of several prominent figures, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who was diagnosed in 2003 and died Oct. 5, 2011. Jobs had an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of the disease. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and actor Patrick Swayze have also faced pancreatic cancer. Swayze died in 2009. The lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 71.
So what are the Pancreatic cancer facts
- Most pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas.
- Few patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have identifiable risk factors.
- Pancreatic cancer is highly lethal.
- Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose, and the diagnosis is often made late in the disease course. Symptoms include weight loss, back pain, and jaundice.
- The only curable treatment is surgical removal of all cancer.
- Chemotherapy after surgery can lower the chances of the cancer returning.
- Chemotherapy for metastatic pancreatic cancer can extend life and improve the quality of life for people with the disease.
- Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are encouraged to seek out clinical trials to improve pancreatic cancer treatment.
- Many organizations exist to help provide information and support for patients and families fighting pancreatic cancer.
What is the pancreas, and what is the function of the pancreas?
The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that sits in front of the spine above the level of the belly button. It performs two main functions: first, it makes insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and second: it makes enzymes, which help break down proteins. Enzymes help digestion by chopping proteins into smaller parts so that they can be more easily absorbed by the body and used for energy. Enzymes leave the pancreas via a system of tubes called "ducts" that connect the pancreas to the intestines. The pancreas sits deep in the belly and is in close proximity to many important structures such as the small intestine (the duodenum) and the bile ducts, as well as important blood vessels and nerves.
How is cancer of the pancreas treated?
Cancer of the pancreas is curable only when it is found in its earliest stages, before it has spread. Otherwise, it is very difficult to cure. However, it can be treated, symptoms can be relieved, and the quality of the patient's life can be improved.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on a number of factors. Among these are the type, size, and extent of the tumor as well as the patient's age and general health. Treatment can consist of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or possibly biological therapy.
Surgery may be necessary to treat pancreatic cancer.
Surgery may be done to remove all or part of the pancreas. Sometimes it is also necessary to remove a portion of the stomach, the duodenum, and other nearby tissues. This operation is called a Whipple procedure. In cases where the cancer in the pancreas cannot be removed, the surgeon may be able to create a bypass around the common bile duct or the duodenum if either is blocked.
Radiation therapy may be used to treat pancreatic cancer.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-powered radiation to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. Radiation is usually given five days a week for five to six weeks. This schedule helps to protect normal tissue by spreading out the total dose of radiation. The patient doesn't need to stay in the hospital for radiation therapy.
Radiation is also being studied as a way to kill cancer cells that remain in the area after surgery. In addition, radiation therapy can help relieve pain or digestive problems when the common bile duct or duodenum is blocked.
Chemotherapy may be used to treat pancreatic cancer
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. When cancer occurs, cells in the body that are not normal keep dividing and forming more cells without control. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying. However, healthy cells can also be harmed, causing side effects. These cells usually repair themselves after chemotherapy.
Treatment may consist of just one drug or a combination of drugs. It may be given by mouth or by injection into a muscle or vein. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles; a treatment period is followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, and so on.
Biological therapy may be used to treat pancreatic cancer
Biological therapy is treatment designed to stimulate or restore the ability of the body's immune system (natural internal defense) to fight infection and disease. Biological therapy is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy. This form of treatment uses portions of the body's natural immune system to treat a disease. Biological therapy is also used to protect the body from some of the side effects of certain treatments.
Biological therapy often involves the use of substances called biological response modifiers (BRMs). The body normally produces these substances in small amounts in response to infection and disease. Using modern laboratory techniques, scientists can produce BRMs in large amounts for use in the treatment of the cancer.
What happens after treatment for pancreatic cancer?
Follow-up care after treatment for pancreatic cancer is an important part of the overall treatment plan. Patients should not hesitate to discuss follow-up with their doctor. Regular checkups ensure that any changes in health are noticed. Any problem that develops can be found and treated. Checkups may include a physical exam, laboratory tests, and imaging procedures.
What support can pancreatic cancer patients seek?
Being diagnosed with cancer is a physically and emotionally trying experience. Patients worry about the future, caring for themselves or their families, keeping their jobs, or continuing daily activities. Concerns about treatments and managing side effects, hospital stays, and medical bills are also common.
Support groups can be helpful, where patients or their family members can get together to share what they have learned about coping with their disease and the effects of treatment. Doctors, nurses, and other members of the health-care team can answer questions about treatment, diet, working, or other matters. Meeting with a social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful to those who want to talk about their feelings or discuss their concerns. Often, a social worker can suggest resources for financial aid, transportation, home care, emotional support, or other services
Cancer programs and services.
Many avenues for support exist within the local community and beyond, both for the patient and for the patient's family and friends. Here are a list of programs and services for cancer patients.
Pancreatic Support Groups
- Pancreatic Cancer Support Groups & Living With Pancreatic Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer Support Group - DailyStrength
- Cancer-Specific Networking Groups
Pancreatic Cancer Association