Health Team

Pancreatic cancer tough to detect, cure

Posted October 17, 2011

Many cancers have survivors who speak out for awareness and increased funding for research. Popular campaigns across the country raise money for types of pediatric cancer, breast cancer and other forms of the disease and often times it’s the survivors leading the charge.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many survivors of pancreatic cancer. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, lived longer than most before he died Oct. 5.

For Peggy Switzer, 77, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009, each day is a blessing.

Switzer went to the doctor after she started feeling sick in the summer of 2009. After blood tests, CT and MRI scans, she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, the most common form of the disease.

“I started having problems with appetite and metallic taste in my mouth and nausea,” she said.

Switzer’s tumor could have been removed if it hadn’t been surrounding a group of blood vessels. Since her diagnosis, Switzer’s been going to chemotherapy every two weeks.

Pancreatic cancer tough to detect, cure Pancreatic cancer tough to detect, cure

Most patients with adenocarcinoma, which makes up 95 percent of all cases, die within a year.

“The chemotherapy keeps me in remission, but I don’t know how long that will be,” Switzer said.

Pancreatic cancer is tougher than other forms of the disease because there is no effective screening process. There aren’t clear risk factors and too few people get it to find patterns for doctors to look for.

The pancreas, which sits behind the stomach, secretes insulin to digest sugars and enzymes to digest fats and protein.

Switzer’s doctor, Neeraj Agrawal, a hematologist and oncologist at the Cancer Centers of North Carolina, said the major issue is finding effective ways to screen patients.

“The second problem with screening is that even when the cancer is detected early, the cure rate is not good,” he said.


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  • uptowngirl Oct 21, 2011

    For all those who have been impacted in some way or want more funds for research, please visit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network www.pancan to see how to get involved. There you will find lots of information on research, advocacy efforts and how to get involved locally. Vist www. Purple Stride Raleigh-Durham for efforts here to raise awareness.

  • ilovemisschichi Oct 21, 2011

    My dad was dx with it in July of 2005 - he had surgery with good clean margins, did radiation and he also did chemo by pill form at home. He was in good health to begin with but my sister and I knew it was a death sentence. dad lived a very full and normal life for over 1 1/2! His quality of life was was only the last month where he went down very quickly and peacefully....once he went into hospice he still fought to hang on to life.
    We were amazed that he had made it for so long after he was dx as he was a stage 3 when dx.
    I would love to see effective screenings for this disease! It is such an insidious sneaky disease....Let's refocus some research money from cancers that are now more treatable and have a better cure rate to these cancers that need more research and focus and attention!

  • vraptor Oct 19, 2011

    Are they any doc's who read these? Would an annual blood test with your annual physical pick up something? If yes. What blood test would you require?

    I keep having recurring precancerous colon polyps that get removed on my annual colonoscopies. And I am only 50.

  • kacn Oct 19, 2011

    Sadly, it is VERY difficult to find this type of cancer. My husband was seen by over a dozen doctors and specialists and it took almost a year and a half after his symptoms started before it was found. He was already at stage IV and he lived only three weeks after he was diagnosed.

  • tarheelatheart65 Oct 19, 2011

    To Ed, many prayers to you and everyone with cancer. Praying a cure will be found. You give us hope, and remind us to appreciate each day that many of us take for granted.

  • b1pilgrm Oct 19, 2011

    Thank you for the kind words and prayers. I have to clarify something. I am technically in remission, in order to be considered a cancer survivor, you have to have clean scans for 5 years. I have about 3 1/2 years to go.

    I was not referring to myself as a long term survivor. I want, no need to hear from someone who has made it that far. We always hear about or know people who don't get that far, as someone who has had the diagnosis, it would be inspirational to hear from a long term survivor of pancreatic cancer.

    Depending on the source, only between 4 to 5% of us have been diagnosed will live to the 5 year mark and that's WITH successful surgery, so you see why hearing from a long term survivor could be helpful.

    Ed Penny

  • uptowngirl Oct 18, 2011

    I like to also say a prayer to Ed for his testimony and survival. The challenge is to increase stories like Ed so that he is not a rare exception. We need to spotlight the survivors so that we can give hope to others.

  • yy_heart Oct 18, 2011

    Ed - thank you for being such a testament of survival! I'm very sorry for your loss and also very happy for your continued recovery!

    Overall, it needs to be recognized more by the public. Many never hear of it until someone famous dies or it affects them personally. I think the emphasis is placed on the negative to pull those people in and to pull in the research funding needed for continued success stories like yours. If the public only hears of these successes and the low number of people affected, they may be less apt to think more research and funding are needed thinking that it is "under control". That's just my opinion/view of the negativity.

    Saying a prayer for you and your family and for all those affected.

  • b1pilgrm Oct 18, 2011

    I have mixed emotions about this story. My mother died from pancreatic cancer January 2009. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer April 2010. I had a successful surgery May 2010 and went through 6 months of chemo. My check ups have all been fine(every 3 months).

    I sometimes feel there is way to much emphasis placed on the low survival rates. I know the public needs to be aware that this is a horrible disease with low survival rates, but there are people who have survived pancreatic cancer and maybe it would also be a public service to hear from long term survivors.

    Speaking personally, I know that when a celebrity dies from pancreatic cancer, we're going to hear about the almost certainty of death from it for as long as the media covers that celebrity,i.e. Steve Jobs. We also need to here about the new drugs that are being developed specifically to fight pancreatic cancer. We all know the small chances of survival- but there are survivors.

    Ed Penny

  • baydraftmare Oct 18, 2011

    I tried watching the extended interview with the oncologist and there was no sound...