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What Should I Expect from a Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis?

Individuals who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not usually receive strong prognoses. The disease is difficult to detect until it is in its later stages. In addition, it can quickly spread to other essential organs before doctors have the chance to treat it. Surgical procedures to remove malignant tumors are generally the most effective means of treatment, when possible. Patients who are not eligible for surgical treatment, however, may benefit from regular chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments and expert care from skilled specialists.

In general, a pancreatic cancer prognosis is much better when the malignancy is detected early. The exact causes of pancreatic cancer remain unknown, though many risk factors have been identified. Most people who are diagnosed with the condition are over the age of 50, and the risk increases steadily in the sixth and seventh decade of life. Smoking, obesity, and a noncancerous condition called pancreatitis are also significant risk factors. In addition, people who have a familial history of pancreatitis and pancreatic tumors are more likely to develop cancer.

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Individuals who know they are at risk of developing the condition should receive regular screenings to guarantee the best pancreatic cancer prognosis. A person who experiences symptoms such as frequent lower back, abdominal pain, weight loss, diarrhea and bloating should visit their primary care physician immediately to test for cancer. If a growth (tumor) is discovered through x-rays and other diagnostic screening tests, the physician usually collects a tissue biopsy to determine if it is malignant.

Isolated tumors that have not yet affected the entire pancreas or surrounding structures can sometimes be surgically removed. Surgeons can perform a procedure called a pancreaticoduodenectomy, or Whipple procedure, to take out as much of the malignancy as possible. A patient may receive a very good pancreatic cancer prognosis following surgery if the entire tumor is extracted. In most cases, however, traces of cancer remain and continue to spread. Only about 20% of patients survive for longer than five years following surgery, and the mean survival rate is about 12 to 19 months.

Since pancreatic cancer is not usually identified until its later stages, most patients are not eligible for surgical procedures. Tumors tend to encase the pancreas and begin to affect other parts of the body, including the bile ducts. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can usually slow the spread of cancer and partially eradicate tumors, and ongoing treatment and pain medication can help to ease symptoms. The five-year survival rate for patients who do not have surgery is only 3%, however, and most people succumb to the condition in four to six months.

Support from friends, family members and medical staff can greatly help a patient cope with his pancreatic cancer prognosis. By learning about the condition and coming to terms with the impacts of pancreatic cancer, an individual can maintain a good attitude and enjoy the time he has with family. Loved ones can educate themselves about end-of-life care to ensure that their family member is kept as comfortable as possible.

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