Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all types of cancer, including cancers of the lung, colon, breasts and prostate.
Dr. James Gould, a Paducah oncologist, said an average of 37,500 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed each year. Of those new cases, 35,000 will die within a year.
“There are two reasons why pancreatic cancer is the deadliest type of cancer,” Gould said. “First is we often only diagnose pancreatic cancer when it has spread beyond the ability for surgery to remove the tumor. That’s the only cure. And second, treatments don’t work to stop the cancer’s growth.”
Carol Foreman is a community representative for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She said she lost her father to pancreatic cancer last year and volunteers as an advocate in his memory.
“Many people like my father may have cancer for 20 or 30 years, but never know about it because there are no screenings or tests for early detection, and the symptoms are very vague,” Foreman said.
Gould said symptoms from the cancer are often misidentified as indigestion, gall bladder disease, food poisoning or other conditions. The lack of blood tests, X-rays or other screenings to reveal the cancer make early detection impossible. Gould say risk factors include Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, smoking and a family history of pancreatic cancer.
“Efforts have been made to address the disease, but we’ve found a block at every turn in the road. Research has tried blood tests, imaging, chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” Gould said. “We just don’t know of anything that would effectively add to the fight at this point.”
Gould said as most pancreatic cancer is advanced when detected, many patients have few options. Surgery may not remove the tumor from the body and the cancer may metastasize to other parts of the body. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation may provide some patients with a few additional months, at the expense of a declining quality of life because of side effects.
Foreman said her organization provides advocacy for additional research. It also lobbies Congress for research funding. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network provides its Patients and Liaison Service that provides a regular point of contact for people diagnosed with cancer to provide information about the disease, treatment options and to answer patients’ questions.
The PALS program also offers information to families and caregivers with its survivors and caregivers network, and allows them to speak with others facing similar circumstances. She called on more people in western Kentucky to volunteer to educate others about pancreatic cancer or to advocate for more research.
To volunteer, learn more about pancreatic cancer, or to contact PALS, call 877-272-6226 or visit www.pancan.org.