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Myths and Facts about pancreatic cancer

The Myth
All pancreatic cancers are fatal.

The Facts

This is not the case.  Much progress has been made in multiple areas of treatment including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and combinations of these therapies.  Some patients can achieve long-term remission.

 

The Myth
All pancreas cancers are the same.

The Facts

There are actually two types of pancreatic cancer and each is made up of a different type of abnormal cell. In up to 95% of cases, pancreatic cancer arises from the cells that line the pancreas ducts, called adenocarcinoma. These cells are part of the exocrine portion of the pancreas and are important in producing enzymes that help in digestion.

Another, much more rare form (neuroendocrine tumor) begins in other cells of the pancreas itself, the endocrine pancreas, where the cells that produce insulin and other hormones are located. These cells are called islets of Langerhans and cancers that begin in these cells are called islet cell cancers. These make up only 5% of pancreatic cancers.

 

The Myth
Pancreas cancer only affects older people.

The Facts

The risk of developing pancreatic cancer is low in the first three to four decades of life but increases sharply after age 50 years. Most patients are between the ages of 60 and 80 at diagnosis. Even though pancreatic cancer is uncommon in patients under the age of 40, some cases have occurred in patients younger than 30 years of age.

 

The Myth
A person has little or no risk of pancreatic cancer if there is no family history of pancreatic cancer.

The Facts

Genetic or hereditary causes of pancreatic cancer account for only 5% to 10% of the estimated 44,000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States.

 

The Myth
Quitting smoking doesn’t help to lower pancreatic cancer risk in an individual who has smoked for most of his or her life.

The Facts

Recent studies have shown that the risk of pancreatic cancer increases as the amount and duration of smoking increase, and that long-term smoking cessation (>10 years) reduces the risk by approximately 30% compared to the risk of current smokers

 

The Myth
An elevated level of the tumor marker CA 19-9 always means that a patient has pancreatic cancer.

The Facts

Although CA 19-9 levels are useful in diagnosing pancreatic cancer and following the course of treatment, there are many causes of elevated CA 19-9 that are not related to pancreatic cancer, including gastrointestinal diseases that are not cancer.

 

The Myth
A pancreatic mass seen on imaging studies is a sign of pancreatic cancer.

The Facts

Although a pancreaticmass identified on imagingstudies such as a CT scanis suggestive of pancreaticcancer, there are othercauses of such a mass notrelated to cancer, includingpancreatitis and apancreatic pseudocyst.Therefore, a biopsy ofa pancreatic mass isrecommended to verifythe presence or absence of cancer.

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