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About 5 percent of patients with pancreatic cancers will be alive five years after diagnosis. Even for those with disease that has not spread, the five-year relative survival rate is only about 16 percent. Low survival rates are due to the fact that pancreatic cancer is hard to find early. By the time symptoms arise, the cancer often has reached a large size and spread to other organs. And because the pancreas is deep inside the body, doctors cannot see or feel tumors during a routine physical exam. In Los Angeles County, about 3,260 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007. Of those, 3,180 will die.

Risk Factors
  • Age – Risk goes up with age. About 90% of patients are older than 55.
  • Gender - Men are more at risk than women.
  • Race - African Americans are more likely to have this cancer than whites.
  • Smoking - Risk is higher among smokers. Heavy smoking raises the risk by two to three times. About 30 percent of pancreatic cancers are thought to be smoking-related.
  • Diet -  Eating a lot of red meat and pork, especially processed meat, may increase risk.
  • Obesity - Very overweight people are 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Diabetes - Pancreatic cancer is more common in people with diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreatitis - A long-term inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis is linked with a slightly higher risk.
  • Family history – Pancreatic cancer seems to run in some families.
  • Stomach problems - Having too much stomach acid or a bacteria called H. pylori in the stomach may increase risk.

Symptoms can include jaundice, belly or middle back pain, weight loss, digestive problems, swollen gallbladder, blood clots and sudden on-set diabetes.

There are three types of treatment for pancreatic cancer: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Depending on the stage of the cancer, two or even all three treatments could be combined.

Sources: American Cancer Society, California Cancer Registry

Last updated: 7/10/2008 11:02:35 AM