The pancreas is a large gland that is a part of the digestive system. It produces two important substances with relevant functions in the digestion process:
- Digestive juices (produced in what is known as the exocrine pancreas), and
- Insulin and other hormones (produced in what is called the endocrine pancreas).
These two parts of the pancreas (exo- and endocrine) can develop different cancers which lead to different symptoms.
Some of the early symptoms that might indicate pancreatic cancer are weight loss, stomach pain and back pain. On top of this, about half of the patients develop jaundice. Since the pancreas produces insulin, diabetes can also be a symptom.
Most cancers develop in the exocrine part of the pancreas. The rest of this article will provide some details about pancreatic cancer survival rates.
The survival rate depends heavily on how advanced the cancer is. Logically, pancreatic cancer diagnosed early has a higher survival rate than pancreatic cancer that is diagnosed in an advanced stage.
Sadly, this type of cancer is usually quite advanced when it gets diagnosed, only 15 – 20% of the diagnosed cancers qualify for surgery. The rest is either too difficult to remove or too far advanced.
The general survival rates are:
- 20% of the patients survive for one year after diagnosis.
- Only 4% of diagnosed patients are still alive five years after the diagnosis was first made.
Effect of Cancer Stage
Pancreatic cancer survival rates depend firmly on the stage of the cancer, with later stages meaning that the cancer has metastasized outside of the pancreas and is spreading through the body.
People diagnosed early are already faced with rather severe prospects, as pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers around. If the cancer hasn’t spread outside of the pancreas, there is a 15% chance of being alive 5 years later.
If the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas, the survival rate depends on how much the cancer has grown and where it has spread to. Average life expectancy for advanced pancreatic cancer is 6 to 11 months.
Effect of Overall Health
The better the health of the patient at the time of the diagnosis, the more chance he or she has to survive, as a healthy patient is better able to withstand the cancer and the treatment. Your overall health is usually called your “performance status", and the lower this is, the better. For example, a performance status (or PS) of 0 means you’re completely able to look after yourself without help, a PS of 1 means you occasionally require assistance, and so on.
Statistics and Large Numbers
Remember that cancer statistics are based on large numbers of patients. This means that they are averages, and do not necessarily reflect what will happen to a specific patient. No two patients are alike, no two cancers are identical and everyone responds differently to treatment.
- American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreaticcancer/overviewguide/pancreatic-cancer-overview-survival-rates
- Cancer Research UK: https://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/type/pancreatic-cancer/treatment/statistics-and-outlook-for-pancreatic-cancer
- Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research: https://www.pancreatic.org/site/c.htJYJ8MPIwE/b.891917/k.5123/Prognosis_of_Pancreatic_Cancer.htm
- John Hopkins Medicine: https://pathology.jhu.edu/pc/basicintro.php?area=ba
- National Statistics Online: https://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=861