Pancreatic Tumors

Pancreatic Cancer Life Expectancy

Pancreatic Cancer Life Expectancy

Pancreatic Cancer Life Expectancy

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer type in terms of deaths in the United States and Canada. About 30,300 people in the U.S. are affected by the disease every year, and of them around 29,700 people die of the cancer. This is a mortality rate average of 95 to 97 percent. Thus, pancreatic cancer life expectancy for patients is very low. But predicting life expectancies accurately is difficult. Treatments, lifestyles, and cancer types all affect the estimate. Still, there are averages, which provide a fairly good idea of what a person diagnosed with pancreatic cancer can expect.

Pancreatic cancer is a difficult disease to detect when it is still in its early stages. When it is just developing, the cancer displays vague symptoms such as upper and/or lower back pains, nausea, weight loss, and abdominal discomfort. These resemble the symptoms of many conditions, which can delay diagnosis. Also, they are fairly simple for most people to ignore or shrug off as being related to lesser causes. Only after the cancer has established itself very well does pain appear. But by then it is usually too late to effectively treat the disease. In fact, the disease is typically considered incurable in most cases.

When it is finally diagnosed, pancreatic cancer sets the average life expectancy at 3 to 6 months. Though if caught a little earlier, this can change to 5 to 12 months. According to the American Cancer Society's databases, the average one-year survival rate is about 20 percent when all pancreatic cancer stages are combined. The amount of people who live longer than 5 years is 5 percent. (The 5 year measure is used because if the cancer has not returned after that long, it probably will not return.) The numbers are so dismally low because less than 10 percent of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer tumors have non-metastatic cancer. In other words, their cancer has not spread to other areas of the body.

In most people, the disease spreads fairly quickly to areas that make surgery a useless treatment option. Yet, even if the cancer has remained a local disease, not growing into other organs and structures, the 5-year average survival rate is only 16 percent. The pancreatic cancer life expectancy changes little.

Unfortunately, the current treatments do not increase pancreatic cancer life expectancy by much. Because most pancreatic tumors have become inoperable, chemotherapeutic drugs are used. Previously, a drug called 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) was the most common. Given through IV over prolonged durations, the survival rate reached 6 to 8 months. Today, gemcitabine, or Gemzar, is the most common. When paired with a pill form of 5-FU (Xeloda), trials found that 1 in 4 people lived at least a year.

Other drugs that are still experimental also improve pancreatic cancer life expectancy by a few months. Most are combined with Gemzar. A drug called Irinotecan gives patients with pancreatic cancer a 5.2 month survival rate. Exatecan, much like irinotecan, has a patient survival rate only a little better at 5.5 months. Rubitecan (9NC) has a 7.3 month survival rate among pancreatic cancer patients. Docetaxel's rates are greater than 6 months. Paclitaxel, related to docetaxel, is 5 months. Patients taking Epirubicin have an average life expectancy of 9 months for some and at least 5 months for the others.

Sadly, little can be done to increase pancreatic cancer life expectancy. Treatments, if they work at all, only lengthen a patient's life by a few months. For most people with the disease, only palliative care can be provided to ease their last days.