Pancreatic cancer was first thrust into the spotlight when Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs succumbed to the illness in 2011. The cancer made headlines again when it took the life of 67-year-old hairdresser, Shunji Matsuo, on Monday (Oct 9). The pancreas is the large elongated organ that sits deep in the upper abdomen, in the middle the stomach and spine. The organ is responsible for secreting insulin and glucagon, two hormones needed to regulate the body’s blood sugar levels.
Additionally, the pancreas is also necessary for the production of digestive enzymes that converts food into nutrients for easy absorption into the body. Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cancerous growth clogs the pancreatic duct. As a result, the digestive enzymes do not get released into the intestinal tract. This fatal condition has been dubbed a silent killer because there are no obvious symptoms during the early stages of pancreatic cancer.
#1 Steve Jobs battled the condition for 8 years
Photo: Steve Jobs Fans/Facebook
According to the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), the average survival rate for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is between three to six months from the time of diagnosis. So how did Jobs, who was diagnosed in 2003, survive the condition for another eight years before his demise in 2011? Steve was struck down with a rare form of the cancer, pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. Unlike other types of pancreatic cancer, neuroendocrine cancer grows slower and is easier to treat.
#2 There are different types of pancreatic cancer
Unfortunately, the most prevalent type of pancreatic cancer, ductal adenocarcinoma, also happens to be the most difficult to treat. Another type of pancreatic cancer that people are diagnosed with is cystic cancers of the pancreas.
#3 The signs
In the early stages of pancreatic cancer, you can’t really detect any obvious signs. That is why patients are usually diagnosed with the disease in the advanced stages. Some possible symptoms of cancer include indigestion and bloating accompanied with a yellowing of the skin. Do not hesitate to seek medical attention if you are experiencing an unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, nauseua, itching and a loss of appetite.
#4 Nip the problem in the bud
There is no surefire way to prevent pancreatic cancer but a correlation has been made between smoking and pancreatic cancer. If you are a smoker, you might want to snub out your smoking habit.
#5 Cut back on the soda
Again, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that consuming sugary drinks would cause cancer cells to grow or spread. That said, try to have sugary soft drinks in moderation. A research done by the University Of Minnesota School Of Public Health found that individuals who drank two or more soft drinks in a week were 87% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who didn’t.
#6 Not a common cancer in Singapore
Every cloud has a silver lining. Pancreatic cancer is not a common cancer in Singapore, accounting for less than 2 percent of cancers diagnosed in Singapore, according to statisitcs from the NCCS.
#7 Overcoming cancer
At the moment, surgery is recommended for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. If surgery is not possible because the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas or if the cancer affects major blood vessels, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the next best alternatives.