ATLANTA, Ga. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease. In most cases, it’s fast-moving and usually fatal. But a less well-known cancer can also attack the pancreas. It’s the kind that apple co-founder Steve Jobs lived with for almost a decade before it claimed his life. Learn more on the so-called “forgotten” pancreatic cancer.
James and Treva Mcreynolds love walking near their Atlanta home. It keeps them in shape for their world travels like a recent trip to Austria.
“Just strolled the city and did the Vienna pass.” James told Ivanhoe.
But in 2013, James began struggling with what he thought was pancreatitis. Instead, doctors removed an unusual pancreatic tumor that later came back in his lymph nodes. It’s called neuroendocrine cancer or net.
James continued, “I heard of pancreatic cancer, which killed Patrick Swayze, but this kind of cancer killed Steve Jobs.”
Treva was afraid: “Panic. A little bit of panic. Then you have to start researching and get as many of the details as you can.”
David Kooby, MD, FACS, Chief of Emory Surgery, Northern Arc and Gastrointestinal Surgical Oncologist at Winship Cancer Institute says neuroendocrine tumors account for only about five percent of all pancreatic cancers. Fifty percent of patients have no symptoms at all. For others, the signs can be mild, moderate or severe.
Dr. Kooby said “Maybe some vague abdominal pain, weight loss, back pain, just because the gland lays at the back of the belly.”
Depending upon the patient, treatment is sometimes surgery or chemo or both. Dr. Kooby says NET is a slower-growing cancer. Steve Jobs lived for nearly ten years after diagnosis. The average life expectancy for the more common pancreatic cancer is less than one year. Even though it moves slowly, James and Treva were thankful doctors caught the cancer early.
“It is a silent killer. I had no symptoms whatsoever at all before the first surgery or the second surgery.” James shared.
About 12 thousand Americans are diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors every year. The five year survival rate can be as high as 50 percent but it varies, depending upon the stage. By comparison, 53 thousand adults will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the five year survival rate for patients who don’t have surgery is only seven percent.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
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THE “STEVE JOBS”
BACKGROUND: Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men and women. This year, an estimated 53,070 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The 5-year survival rate, if the cancer is detected at an early stage and surgical removal of the tumor is possible, is 27%. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate decreases to 11%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 1-year survival rate is 15% and the 5-year survival rate is 2%. Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose because there are no specific, cost-effective screening tests that can easily and reliably find it early stage. It is known as the silent disease because there are not many noticeable symptoms. When people have symptoms, they are similar to the symptoms of other medical conditions, such as ulcers or pancreatitis. Some of these may include: yellow skin and eyes, pain in upper abdomen or upper back, burning feeling in stomach or other stomach discomfort, weakness, loss of appetite, or nausea and vomiting.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: To confirm a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, a doctor will want to perform a complete physical exam and health history, followed by blood, urine, and stool tests. Some additional tests may be an angiogram, which is an x-ray to show if an area of blood flow is blocked; a CT scan, which can help determine if the cancer has spread to other organs; or a transabdominal ultrasound, which uses sound waves to form a picture of the organs in the abdomen, and can distinguish types of pancreatic tumors. The goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to eliminate the cancer, when possible. When that isn’t an option, the focus may be on improving your quality of life and preventing the cancer from spreading or causing more harm. Some options for treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these. When the cancer is advanced and these treatments aren’t likely to offer a benefit, your doctor may offer symptom relief (palliative care) that makes you as comfortable as possible.
THE FORGOTTEN CANCER: Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) account for less than 5% of all pancreatic tumors. They can be benign or malignant and tend to grow slower than other pancreatic tumors. NETs are classified as either functional or nonfunctional. Functional tumors make extra amounts of hormones, such as gastrin, insulin, and glucagon that cause signs and symptoms. Nonfunctional tumors do not make extra amounts of hormones, therefore, signs and symptoms occur as the tumor spreads and grows. Treatment for NETs varies, depending on factors such as the type and stage. Some of the most common treatment options are surgical removal of the primary tumor; chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy; and, radiation therapy is generally used when a NET has spread or is in a location that makes surgery difficult.
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