How Long Does the Average Person Have to Live After Being Diagnosed With Pancreatic Cancer?

Illustration of male pancreas anatomy

Illustration of male pancreas anatomy |

You know certain types of cancer — like breast, lung, and skin — are certainly ones to watch out for. And your doctor may have even given you guidance for checking for cancer symptoms in the comfort of your own home. It’s important to keep in mind that pancreatic cancer is also one of the more common types to develop, however — and that’s particularly true if it runs in your family. Here’s what you need to know about the disease, including how long you can expect to live after diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates

To be clear, pancreatic cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the pancreas, which is the gland that’s in front of the spine and below the stomach, WebMD explains. Your pancreas is responsible for producing hormones that help regulate your blood sugar, and it also helps create digestive juices.

There are certain risk factors for pancreatic cancer you should know. Like all cancers, if it runs in your family, you have a greater risk of developing it yourself. Not only that, but smoking and having long-standing diabetes can also increase your risk. And if you have chronic pancreatitis or an inherited condition that affects the pancreas (even if it’s not cancer), talk to your doctor about ways you can lower your odds.

You should also know that pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly — and death rates are on the rise. The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research notes it’s currently the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. And by 2020, it’s expected to be the second leading cause. Out of all the major cancers, it has the highest mortality rate.

Symptoms to watch out for

Your pancreas isn’t often a gland you think about, so you should know what the symptoms of a problem are if they should arise. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network reports unexplainable and persistent back and stomach pain can be caused by a tumor in the gland. Also, cancer in this region can cause bloating from fluid build-up in the abdomen. Jaundice, a change in your stool, or a new diabetes diagnoses are all red flags that something may be amiss.

As for diabetes, there’s a significant link between the condition and pancreatic cancer. Research shows that those over 50 who develop diabetes may actually be experiencing an early sign of cancer. For those who already have diabetes, a change in blood sugar levels out of the blue is another symptom.

How long you can expect to live after diagnosis

Unfortunately, the outlook for those with pancreatic cancer isn’t promising. The Hirshberg Foundation reports in 2018 alone, roughly 55,440 Americans will be diagnosed, and over 44,330 will die. Within the first year of diagnosis, it’s also estimated that 74% of all patients will die. And at all stages of the disease, the five-year survival rate is just 8%.

There is hope for those who are diagnosed extremely early, however. The five-year outlook for those with an early diagnosis where cancer has not spread beyond the pancreas shoots up to 32%.

So, why is this cancer so deadly? Currently, diagnosing the disease early on when tumor removal is possible is incredibly difficult, as there aren’t any early-detection tools available. Only 20% of those diagnosed can have their tumors operated on.

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