Oncologists Must Help Curb Deadliness of Pancreatic Cancer

by | Last updated Jul 3, 2023 | Published on Dec 30, 2014 | Healthcare News

Pancreatic Cancer
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The decisions of oncologists often hold the key to successful or failed cancer treatment. This is particularly true with the deadly pancreatic cancer that has claimed the lives of illustrious people such as Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze.

Pancreatic cancer is set to become the second deadliest form of cancer by 2030, if research by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is to be believed. This is one of the hardest kinds of cancer to diagnose in time before it has spread significantly, which is why it accounts for most deaths. The famous and charismatic actor and singer Patrick Swayze was himself a victim of the disease and it has prompted his widow Lisa Niemi to start a foundation, the Patrick Swayze Pancreas Research Fund, to raise awareness about the need for greater research and prompt detection of the disease.

Pancreatic Cancer Getting More Deadly

The path of pancreatic cancer is particularly alarming considering that the death rate from other major cancers such as breast, lung and colorectal cancer is coming down. One of the major factors contributing to this is the location of the pancreas quite deep inside the abdomen which makes the organ hard to access and scan by traditional scanning procedures. The other factor is probably the vagueness of the early symptoms which makes it hard to pinpoint the presence of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has also been known to spread right at the early stages, while also being reasonably undetectable. The tissue surrounding the pancreas is also quite dense which serves to block the effect of drugs.

Ultimately, the reason for the deadliness of pancreatic cancer is the lack of adequate research in the field. Lung cancer tops the list, though, as the deadliest cancer in America and looks like it could continue like this for quite some time. But pancreatic cancer is sure to get quite firmly ensconced in second place.

Spreads Easily but Hard to Detect

Once the cancer tumor has reached the stage of spreading to the surrounding blood vessels and nerves, surgery is more or less unpredictable in its capability to kill it. Chemotherapy and radiation are administered in the hope of killing the cancer cells, while in the initial stages these are administered along with surgery. Trouble is, at the time of detection only 10% of pancreatic cancers are in the initial stages when the cells can be removed through surgery.

Surgery Not Always Successful

In the resectable stage, which is the initial stage where the cancer has not spread, one of three kinds of surgeries may need to be performed. The Whipple procedure involves removing the pancreas head, some of the lymph nodes, some parts of the small intestine and stomach, the bile duct and the gallbladder. Experience is very important for the success of this procedure since the remaining organs need to be efficiently connected for digestion to take place.

The other surgical procedure is distal pancreatectomy which involves removing the body or the tail of the pancreas, sometimes both the areas, without touching the head. Most pancreatic cancer tumors that originate outside the head are generally unresectable or unable to be removed surgically though, which is why distal pancreatectomy is quite rare. Total pancreatectomy is the third procedure and is also rare. It involves removing the entire pancreas.

It isn’t uncommon to encounter situations when pancreatic cancers thought to be in the resectable stage turn out to be unresectable (advanced spreading stage) when the body is opened up during the surgery. In such conditions the surgery isn’t performed.

Right Decisions Need Not Lead to Survival

In each of these stages the oncologist’s decision makes the big difference. While Whipple surgery combined with chemotherapy and radiation could cure the cancer, it could strike again. Pancreatic cancer has a pretty poor prognosis. 94% of pancreatic cancer patients are expected to die in 5 years following their diagnosis while 75% of patients could die in a year. The oncologist’s decision can, at best, prolong death rather than prevent it, though Steve Jobs was reported to have a kind of pancreatic cancer that could be cured had he not turned to alternative medicine.

The Steve Jobs Story

Jobs’ cancer treatment saga is indeed quite strange. After being diagnosed with a less aggressive and rare, curable form of pancreatic cancer in October of 2003 he refused doctors’ advice to go through a nine-month medical intervention involving surgery, and chose pseudo-medicine instead which experts believe eventually contributed to his death in 2011 since it did not deal with the tumor effectively. He was forced to have an operation though in July 2004 after he realized that his belief in the various pseudo-medicine procedures was not well founded. However, thanks to the less aggressive nature of the kind of pancreatic cancer he contracted, Jobs did manage to live for 8 years after the diagnosis.

Doctors Need to Spearhead Hard Research

The need for more and more research into pancreatic cancer is greater now than ever before. The increasing number of cases and the presence of so many unknowns make it imperative for researchers to find out new ways of early detection and a more promising cure which could arrest the progress and rapid spread of the tumor. Steps must also be taken to educate people on what to do to prevent the disease from striking. The prognosis has got to improve to keep pancreatic cancer from reaching the second spot in the list of the most deadly cancers. This is exactly what organizations such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network are working towards.

The input of doctors is vital for advanced research. The oncologist’s full focus on the condition of the patient is vital.

Reliable medical coding services would ensure that doctors receive full payment for their services. It is important that a supporting cast is there to provide services so that oncologists and other medical professionals can focus on their work and contribute more to observation and research.

Natalie Tornese

Holding a CPC certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), Natalie is a seasoned professional actively managing medical billing, medical coding, verification, and authorization services at OSI.

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