Pancreatic cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the pancreas, a relatively small organ that is responsible for assisting with digestion and helping manage blood sugar levels. While pancreatic cancer is rare and only accounts for about 7% of all cancer-related death, those who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer often find that the condition is terminal. With a one-year survival rate of 28.8% and a five-year survival rate of 7.9%, pancreatic cancer has the distinction of being a form of cancer with one of the lowest survival rates. The survival rate five years after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is just 8%.
It is estimated that 49,830 people will lose their fight with pancreatic cancer in 2022.
Abdominal ultrasounds may help improve pancreatic cancer survival rates.
Why is the Pancreatic Survival Rate So Low?
Pancreatic cancer is a bit of a medical mystery which is one of the main reasons the survival rate is so low.
One of the first challenges with this form of cancer is that no one is sure what causes pancreatic cancer. There are very few things that seem to increase the risk of a person developing pancreatic cancer. The medical community has noted that patients who regularly use tobacco are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smoking/chewing/vaping patients. The American Cancer Organization reports that 25% of patients who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are smokers.
Other issues that can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer include:
- Some hereditary gene mutations
- Chronic pancreatitis
There is also some indication that individuals who work in the dry cleaning and/or metalworking industries are exposed to chemicals that could increase the risk of developing pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
The fact that there are very few clear indicators suggesting a risk of developing pancreatic cancer makes it difficult fo a healthcare provider to know who they should and shouldn’t screen and this is likely one of the reasons pancreatic cancer has such a low survival rate. The lack of screening means the pancreatic cancer is not detected while in the early stages of pancreatic cancer, making a successful treatment extremely difficult.
The Importance of Early Detection
Not having a clear understanding of why some people develop pancreatic cancer and others do not is just one of the reasons this form of cancer is not diagnosed in the early stages. Another reason there’s very little early detection is that there simply are not many symptoms that can be used as early warning signs.
The symptoms that ultimately convince doctors to check a patient for pancreatic cancer include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Stomach pain
- Back pain
- Chronic indigestion
- Bowel habit change
The problem is that most of these symptoms either don’t develop or don’t become concerning until the cancer has already reached an advanced stage, by which point, successfully treating it is extremely difficult.
In most cases, pancreatic cancer is not detected until it has reached Stage IV, when invades other organs. Pancreatic cancer in the liver, for example, is not liver cancer but metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Could Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer Improve the Survival Rate
For several decades, the medical community has known that one of the earliest signs of pancreatic cancer is small lesions called pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN).
Pancreatic research performed during various autopsies revealed that while most middle-aged adult pancreases do have some low-grade PanINs. This indicates that lesions are a part of the normal aging process. Autopsies also revealed that while high-grade PanIN was not common in middle-aged adults, those who did have the high-grade lesions also had a genetic history of pancreatic cancer. Based on this observation, pathologists hypothesized that the high-grade PanIN lesions would serve as an early warning sign of developing pancreatic cancer.
The high-grade lesions discovered during the autopsies have been named PanIN-3. While these lesions themselves are not cancerous, it is believed that they serve as a precursor to invasive pancreatic adenocarcinoma which is.
It is believed that the PanIN-3 lesions could be present years before any cancer actually develops within the pancreas. One reason for this conclusion is that in cases where the PanIN-3 lesions were detected early, it was at an age that was often a full 3-5 years younger than individuals who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When presented with an opportunity to observe the development of PanIN-3 lesions over time, researchers noticed that the patients remained in relatively good health for months and even years before they started having problems with their pancreas.
PanIns are not the only thing the pancreas develops that can serve as an early warning sign of pancreatic cancer. Researchers have also noticed fibrosis, which they call lobulocentric atrophy. Autopsies reveal that these fibrosis cysts develop in areas of the pancreas where there are several small, virtually undetectable PanIN lesions.
Can an Abdominal Ultrasound Detect Pancreatic Cancer
Determined to figure out ways to improve the pancreatic cancer survival rate and make early detection possible, the medical community has turned to ultrasounds.
Is it possible that routine abdominal ultrasounds could detect pancreatic cancer and if that cancer was detected in the early stages rather than when it was already quite advanced, could the cancer be treated?
The answer is yes. Many members of the medical community have determined that ultrasound technology is the first line of defense when it comes to diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer.
Abdominal ultrasounds have the potential to be highly effective in the war against pancreatic cancer. As ultrasound and imaging technology improves, the ability to use an ultrasound to both detect and monitor early warning signs of pancreatic cancer improves.
Current ultrasound technology makes it possible to see if a pancreatic mass, such as a pancreatic lesion, pancreatic tumor, or pancreatic cyst, has developed. Once the ultrasound image has been captured, a medical team can review the images and determine if the cysts and lesions are the early warning signs of cancer or if cancerous cells have already developed. In addition to showing if there are any concerning lesions or cysts, the abdominal ultrasound will also show if the pancreas is enlarged or if there is any unusual blood flow.
Ultrasound technology is rapidly improving. As the images continue to get better, the odds of detecting pancreatic cancer just as it is developing will also improve.
The biggest challenge connected to using an abdominal ultrasound to detect the early signs of pancreatic cancer is arranging to use the ultrasound for scanning purposes. Because the medical community has not yet identified any truly early warning signs of pancreatic cancer, most of the warning signs commonly connected to this type of cancer don’t develop until the cancer is quite advanced, it’s difficult to know who should have an abdominal scan done.
Considering how long it takes to develop warning pancreatic cancer symptoms and how difficult it is to determine who is a high risk for developing pancreatic cancer, it is likely that the only way to truly use abdominal ultrasounds to diagnose pancreatic cancer in the early stages is to make the ultrasounds part of routine cancer screenings, similar to the way mammograms and breast cancer screenings are now done annually to assist with the early detection of breast cancer.
Other Imaging Tests
An endoscopic ultrasound is another version of the ultrasound that is minimally invasive and is used to examine pancreatic lesions. A magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI scan) can be used to look at the pancreatic and bile ducts. Computed tomography scan (CT scan) can outline tumors in the body and show if the cancer has spread to different organs. A positron emission tomography scan (PET scan)can be used to show how abnormal cancer cells have traveled throughout the body, like to a lymph node, pancreatic duct or bile duct.
If the abdominal ultrasound reveals that the patient has developed pancreatic cancer, immediate steps can be taken to treat the cancer. When the pancreatic cancer is caught early and the cancer hasn’t impacted other organs, surgery is the most effective and quickest form of treatment. The surgery most commonly used when pancreatic cancer is detected in the early stages is called Whipple Surgery. It focuses on removing only the cancerous section of the pancreas, leaving the remainder of the organ in place to function normally. In many cases, the patient has made a successful recovery and resumed their normal life.
When the cancer has spread to a large portion of the pancreas, the entire organ will have to be removed. While the patient can still enjoy a high quality of life, they will require some medications, hormones, and insulin so they can continue to enjoy a high quality of life.
When pancreatic cancer is not detected in the early stages, the treatment program is considerably more aggressive. While surgery may still be an option, later-stage pancreatic treatment usually involves radiation therapy and chemotherapy which takes a toll on the patient’s physical and mental health.
Contact the Immunity Therapy Center About Your Pancreatic Cancer
Every single person at Immunity Therapy Center understands the serious nature of pancreatic cancer and is dedicated to providing you with the best possible pancreatic cancer treatment. We are proud to provide healthcare that’s both the highest possible quality and affordable. We provide you and every single other patient with high-quality, affordable cancer treatment that’s effective and compassionate. Every single time you visit our facility you’ll be greeted warmly and treated with dignity. Most importantly, you know that we are using every single resource available to us in our battle to treat your cancer.
Contact us and learn more about what options you have concerning pancreatic cancer. It’s an action that could save your life.
Written By: Dr. Pablo Orozco
Dr. Pablo Orozco is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.
Dr. Orozco has been a treating physician at the Immunity Therapy Center for more than 3 years providing daily on site patient care. He works with patients on a daily basis and guides them through the treatment process. Dr. Orozco’s passion for Alternative Cancer Treatments along with his commitment to patient care is key to insure that our patients have the best experience and results possible.
- The Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer: What Will it Take to Diagnose and Treat Curable Pancreatic Neoplasia? (nih.gov)
- What is a Pancreas or Pancreatic Ultrasound? | Two Views (two-views.com)
- Abdominal ultrasound for pancreatic cancer | Cancer Research UK
- Is pancreatic cancer curable? | Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms | PCA (pancreaticcanceraction.org)
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.