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Pancreatic Cancer

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Posted 10/13/2014

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Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in men and women in the US. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that there will be more than 42,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer each year in the United States. Surgical oncologist Dr. Aaron Sasson explains why pancreatic cancer is so difficult to deal with and why coming years may bring even more cases of the disease.

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It is typically very difficult discussing the patients who have pancreatic cancer, although from the surgical point of view if we can do the operation to remove the tumor then we do give the patients some chance of hope for having a long-term survival more than five years, for example, even. So it is possible. So we do have patients who are alive five, six, 10 years after diagnosis of pancreatic cancer only because they were able to have the operation. So it’s important to discuss with your doctor (you know) what you’re treatment options are. Unfortunately, once it has spread, it typically implies only chemo therapy.

Unfortunately the problem is that the majority of the patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer already have tumors spread to other organs, which then precludes them from having any sort of surgery and they go on to seek chemo therapy. And as such then the prognosis is typically not very good. The only treatment option that can result in any long-term survivorship is (when you detect it early) is surgery. The surgery can only be performed, or is only worthwhile to be performed) when the tumor has been confined to the pancreas. That, unfortunately, does not happen too often. But when it does happen, then for most patients, that’s a very good option. So surgery can be complicated either with a Whipple operation or removal of part of the pancreas.

You know it, that the greatest risk factor so far that we know about pancreatic cancer is smoking and so that it is in that people can do to quit and that would definitely reduce their chances of pancreatic cancer. We also know that obesity is also another important factor, as our genetics. Sometimes you can do something about smoking, something about obesity; genetics is very difficult to anything about. But other than that, we still don’t know much more regarding the cause of pancreatic cancer. So there are certain life-style changes that people can do; one (of course) is stop smoking, exercise and eat healthy. Those things will go a long way, not just with pancreatic cancer but for overall well-being in general.

There’s been a recent estimate in that pancreatic cancer will be increasing greatly in the future partly because of the aging population, but also because of the difficulty of obesity in the United States. So we do see, we will probably expect to see an increase in the number of pancreatic cancers over the next 10 to 20 years.

There are currently several things going under investigation; the problem is that pancreatic cancer (in general) so typically strikes so few patients, so few people, that screening the whole population does not become very productive. So there are centers that are having screenings for people who have multiple family members with pancreatic cancer. Then there is some worthwhile endeavor in screening, but to be honest, it’s still under investigation (we don’t know exactly how long). Here at the Med Center though, we are undergoing multiple areas of research in regards to early screening and early detection of pancreatic cancer (which we have several research endeavors), one of which we believe will be coming soon to help screen people with diabetes who may then develop pancreatic cancer.

Due to the unique characteristics of the Medical Center’s practice in pancreatic cancer, as well as the bench science and basic science component of done at UNMC as well as at the Eppley cancer center. We have one of the few very coveted procedures/grants from the National Cancer Institute in Washington D.C. to study pancreatic cancer. So it’s one of a handful of given to centers around the country and we’re fortunate to have one of those. So we have a people coming interest in pancreatic cancer and all aspects of that’s been funded by the government.

There is always ongoing research and there’s been some very important breakthroughs recently with the cost of pancreatic cancer, which will hopefully translate into some meaningful treatments in the next several years. So I think there’s still more to do. There are some early signs of some productive research that’s been going on. So we will make strides with treating pancreatic cancer.