The pancreas is a vital organ in the human body and is located inside the small intestine. It is responsible for the production of hormones and enzymes which break down the food. This enables the body to produce insulin which regulates the body's energy needs. The carcinoma of the pancreas may be life-threatening, and it has been classified in 4 different stages. Early diagnosis is important to increase the life expectancy of pancreatic cancer patients. Doctors may use diagnostic tests like ultrasound, CT scan, and biopsy determine this condition. The diagnosis is difficult as most of the symptoms experienced by the patients are synonymous with other illnesses such as upper abdominal pain, weight loss, jaundice, etc.
A cancer is classified as stage 4 if it has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body, and is not restricted to the pancreas. This stage is further divided in two groups stage 4A and stage 4B. Pancreatic cancer classified as stage 4A is restricted to the pancreas, and nearby blood vessels and organs. In stage 4B, the cancerous cells spread from the tissue of the pancreas to distant organs. Some of the vital organs that may get affected are the liver, lungs, spleen, stomach, etc.
When the disease reaches this stage there are limited treatment options available. Unlike other stages of cancer, surgery is ruled out in stage 4 of pancreatic cancer and chemotherapy is preferred. However, chemotherapy is used as a part of the pain management technique and not as a cure. In some cases, surgery may be performed to alleviate some of the symptoms and improve the quality of life in patients.
The cancer life expectancy is commonly discussed in terms of a 5-year survival rate. This is used as a parameter to categorize patients who live more than 5 years after diagnosis. In America, the number of deaths related to pancreatic cancer were marked at 35,000 for the year 2009. The rate of life expectancy varies from one stage to another. Stage 4 has the lowest life expectancy rate since the cancer affects other organs of the body during this stage. This stage is considered most fatal of all; however, the survival rate may be increased with proper treatment.
People diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer have a very low 5-year survival rate of only 1 percent. This number, however, varies depending on a lot of factors like the treatment options, age and health of the patient, and most importantly the stage at which the diagnosis was done. It is therefore advisable to consult the treating physician determine an estimated survival rate as it may vary from one individual to another. New drugs coming up in the market or currently under clinical trials are also expected to raise the life expectancy of the stage 4 cancer patients.
Family members of the patients need to understand that these statistics are just for reference for the doctors, and each case is unique. Various disease management techniques are evolving everyday along with the understanding of cancer and its development, which may help fight this disease.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.