Pancreatic Cancer: A Brutal Disease with a Grim Prognosis

Actor Patrick Swayze announced through his representatives today that he has pancreatic cancer, but his doctor has said, “Patrick has a very limited amount of disease and he appears to be responding well to treatment.”

I hope that’s true, because pancreatic cancer is a brutal disease with a grim prognosis. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, pancreatic cancer is rarely detected in its early stage and spreads quickly, which are why it is one of the most deadly cancers. The article has information on signs, symptoms, risk factors, and more.

Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 5%, according to the National Cancer Institute. The disease has killed a number of well-known people, most recently the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. The actor Michael Landon also died of pancreatic cancer, and the disease has claimed a number of family members of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, including his brother. In fact, Carter did a commercial for the Lustgarten Foundation, a pancreatic cancer research organization, several years ago.

The NCI has a good fact sheet on pancreatic cancer, with lots of links for more details. The NCI also provides a page of epidemiology facts on pancreatic cancer, which reports that in 2007 37,170 men and women will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 33,370 men and women will die of it. That gives an indication of just how deadly the disease is: it kills more people each year than become sick with the disorder.

For Swayze’s sake, I hope that the disease was caught early when it can still be treatable.

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