By Linda Searing,
In 2020, deaths from pancreatic cancer in the United States are expected to total 47,500, according to the National Cancer Institute. Those who have succumbed to this cancer in recent months have included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis of Georgia and, mostly recently, longtime “Jeopardy!” game show host Alex Trebek. The death toll puts pancreatic cancer as the country’s third-leading cause of death from cancer, after lung and colorectal cancers. About 8 percent of all cancer deaths stem from pancreatic cancer, even though, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers. Pancreatic cancer is so lethal because it is seldom diagnosed and treated in an early stage. Tumors on the pancreas, a gland tucked behind the stomach and in front of the spine, are rarely detected during routine physical exams, and people usually have no symptoms until the cancer has enlarged and spread to other organs. Also, symptoms that people might have — such as jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), belly or back pain, unintended weight loss and fatigue — are often symptoms of other health issues. Once diagnosed, treatment for pancreatic cancer may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. But the ACS says that no standard screening tool exists for pancreatic cancer. More than 57,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020, slightly more men than women. Overall, the five-year survival rate for people who have this cancer is 10 percent, but those with advanced disease have less than a 3 percent chance of living five years.
— Linda Searing
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