5 Misconceptions about Pancreatic Cancer

.. and how they stall progress.

Pancreatic cancer is rare.

It's not. It's the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the US and Europe, and it's set to become the 2nd in 2020.


To be defined as rare, a disease must affect less than 200,000 people in the US and less than 2,000 in Europe. (See FAQs About Rare Diseases). Both definitions seem unreasonable and outdated. If we use the requirement of 200,000 new cases, we have to classify prostate cancer (163,000) leukemia (60,000), melanoma (96,000), and other prevalent diseases as rare.


Pancreatic cancer primarily affects the older population.

No. 35% of new patients are under the age of 65, and this percentage is increasing.


Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer; symptoms often go unnoticed.

Not true. Most patients are symptomatic and report multiple doctor visits before diagnosis. Abdominal pain, weight loss, and jaundice are a few common symptoms described in these early doctor visits.


Pancreatic cancer is rarely treatable.

Not true. There are therapeutic drugs proven to work for all stages, and if the diagnosis comes in the early stages, curative surgery may be performed.


Pancreatic cancer grows extremely fast.

No. It takes at least ten years for the first cancer-causing mutation to form a cancer cell, and from this point, it takes about another seven years for the formation of a tumor.


Misconceptions are a roadblock to progress. Here is how.


Rare cancer misconception:

Rare diseases are underfunded because our government, foundations, corporations, and philanthropists generally support common conditions. Thus, pancreatic cancer is chronically underfunded, and despite a 100% increase in cases over the last 20 years, public awareness remains low.


Age Misconception:

Younger patients, those in their 30's and 40's, are more likely to delay seeing a doctor when they become symptomatic. After seeing a doctor, it also takes longer for them to receive a diagnosis. The opportunity for early intervention and curative surgery is lost.


Silent Killer Misconception:

Early warning signs are missed because patients and doctors do not expect pancreatic cancer to appear before it has spread. One lady recently complained that her local doctor diagnosed her with gastritis, then IBS, and gall stones, before finally realizing she had pancreatic cancer. Again, early warning signs are missed.


Rarely Treatable Misconception:

Almost 40% of patients do not receive treatment upon diagnosis. Some doctors explain the treatment options but do so in a grim, unenthusiastic way. Other physicians tell the patient therapy isn't available. Whether it's the doctors' lack of faith in treatment or their lack of understanding about the advancements in treatment, this misconception underscores the need for more education and awareness among the medical community.


Pancreatic cancer advocacy is at a critical point. As awareness spreads, we must make sure to communicate the barriers to progress and work hard to break them down


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