Pancreatic cancer accounts for only 2% of cancers diagnosed in the United States each year. However, it is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in this country. According to the American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States, more than:
- 42,000 cases are diagnosed each year
- 35,000 people die because of the disease
The lifetime risk of having pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 72. It is about the same for men and women. The risk increases with age, and most cases are diagnosed in people between 60 and 80 years old.
Pancreatic cancer usually has few, if any, signs or symptoms in the early stages when it would be most treatable.
The pancreas is a spongy, oblong organ about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. It is located behind the lower part of the stomach, between the stomach and the spine. The pancreas is important because it makes insulin and other hormones that help the body absorb sugar and control blood sugar, and produces juices that aid in digestion.
Staging is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting the functions of other organs in the body.
At Saint John’s, we use diagnostic tests to determine the cancer’s stage, so staging may not be complete until all the tests are finished.
Knowing the stage helps us to decide what type of treatment is best and can help predict a patient’s chance of survival.
- Stage 0: Refers to cancer in situ, in which the cancer has not yet invaded outside the duct (or tube) in which it started (Tis, N0, M0).
- Stage IA:The tumor is 2 cm or smaller in the pancreas. It has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body (T1, N0, M0).
- Stage IB: A tumor larger than 2 cm is in the pancreas. It has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body (T2, N0, M0).
- Stage IIA: A tumor extends beyond the pancreas, but the tumor has not spread to nearby arteries or veins. It has not spread to any lymph nodes or other parts of the body (T3, N0, M0).
- Stage IIB: A tumor of any size has not spread to nearby arteries or veins. It has spread to lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body (T1, T2, or T3; N1; M0).
- Stage III: A tumor has spread to nearby arteries, veins, and/or lymph nodes but has not spread to other parts of the body (T4, N1, M0).
- Stage IV: Any tumor that has spread to other parts of the body (any T, any N, M1).
- Recurrent: Recurrent cancer is cancer that comes back after treatment. If there is a recurrence, the cancer may need to be staged again (called re-staging) using the system above.
Because many of the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer can also be caused by more common health problems, pancreatic cancer often is not diagnosed until it is very advanced.
Accordingly, national survival rates are often low, depending on the stage when diagnosed.
5-year survival rates
- Stage IA: 14%
- Stage IB: 12%
- Stage IIA: 7%
- Stage IIB: 5%
- Stage III: 3%
- Stage IV: 1%
However with more effective chemotherapeutic agents and successful surgery, up to 25% of patients may be free of cancer at five years with a good quality of life.
The American Cancer Society’s estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States for 2013 are:
- About 45,220 people (22,740 men and 22,480 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
- About 38,460 people (19,480 men and 18,980 women) will die of pancreatic cancer
Rates of pancreatic cancer have been slowly increasing over the past 10 years.
The lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 72 (1.47%). A person’s risk may be altered by certain risk factors.
Long-term prognosis for individuals with pancreatic cancer depends on the size and type of the tumor, lymph node involvement, and degree of metastases (spreading) at the time of diagnosis.