Pancreatic cancer (cancer of the pancreas) is a very nasty cancer that is associated with a poor prognosis in most cases. It is most common in older people, the overweight, smokers, and those with a family history of pancreatic cancer. Heavy drinking (alcohol) has long been associated with an increased risk although more recent research is questioning this link (it may be that only very heavy drinking – 6+ drinks per day – is a real risk).
Pancreatic cancer can cause abdominal pain, yellow skin (jaundice), nausea & vomiting, dark-coloured urine, light-coloured stools, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Unfortunately the early symptoms are usually vague (could be caused by almost anything) and so the diagnosis is not usually made until the cancer has developed and or spread. This is the main reason for the poor prognosis: only 25% of patients survive 12 months and only 5% survive 5 years (although when diagnosed early, 5-year survival becomes 20%).
Treatment options include surgery (but only in early cases), chemotherapy, and radiation, as well as general support, pain relief etc. In most cases the goal of treatment is quality of life not length of life.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the nastiest cancers, with a very poor prognosis in nearly all cases – early detection is difficult and rare, but is associated with a better outcome.