In the US, almost 45,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer yearly. The prognosis tends to be poor considering the five-year survival rate is less than 10 percent. Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas accounts for the majority of pancreatic cancer cases in comparison to neuroendocrine tumors, which represent a smaller percentage.
Current treatment options available for pancreatic cancer patients consist of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Even if aggressive intervention is implemented, patients may only gain an additional month to a year of survival, depending on the stage of the disease and the type of pancreatic tumor.
Unfortunately, a majority of patients tend to be initially diagnosed with advanced or late stage pancreatic disease, which leads to a much worse prognosis. With that being said, it's difficult for patients to weigh their options in regards to quality versus quantity.
"For pancreatic cancer we know the quantity of life is short, so maximizing the quality of life is important -- and the best way we can do that is to give patients concrete data that they can look at and use in their treatment decisions," says Dr. Casey Boyd, a University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston surgery resident and lead author of a paper analyzing the problem in the current issue of Annals of Surgical Oncology.
Boyd and her research team addressed this very issue by obtaining patient information from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database (SEER). They examined records for over 25,000 pancreatic cancer patients and focused on two areas that may have had an impact on quality of life: days spent in the hospital or days spent in medical care (clinic visits, diagnostic testing, treatment, etc.). This study enabled researchers to take a look at the life of many pancreatic cancer patients from a quantitative and qualitative perspective regarding stage, treatment, and survival time.
A doctor could draw on the paper to counsel a patient with metastatic pancreatic cancer -- the most common and deadly type. Boyd stated:
The physician could say, if you have chemotherapy you may live four to six weeks longer, but a lot of that time you're going to be in the hospital, or getting a test, or getting a needle poked in your arm for your chemotherapy. Some patients may say, I want that, I want the most life that you can give me.
Some patients may also decide that they don't want to spend the time they have left in misery. They may decide that hospice is the better treatment option for them. It will allow for comfort and time spent with friends and family instead of in a medical facility.
Boyd stresses that that this research study was about empowering the patient. “We want to provide them with the information they need to make their own personalized treatment decisions.”
What is your experience with pancreatic cancer patients? Have any of your patients beat the odds and made it beyond the five-year survival rate?
I believe more focus should be placed on pancreatic cancer research and awareness, as most of these patients experience a less than optimal outcome. Let’s see those purple ribbons!