Pancreatic Cancer: Prognosis and Life Expectancy
Medically reviewed by Christina Chun, MPH on September 8, 2017 Written by Kimberly Holland
Helping your odds
The importance of early detection
A pancreatic cancer prognosis depends a great deal on the cancers stage at the time of diagnosis. Advanced stages of pancreatic cancer are generally more fatal than early stages, due to the spread of the disease.
Many cases of pancreatic cancer arent detected until the cancer has progressed and spread to other parts of the body. Thats why its so important to get regular check-ups and discuss with your doctor any concerns you may have about symptoms and overall health.
Whats pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that develops within the pancreas. The pancreas rests behind the stomach in your upper abdomen. Among other functions, the pancreas is responsible for two key bodily tasks: digestion and blood sugar regulation.
The pancreas creates fluids or juices that are passed into the intestines and help to break down and digest food. Without these juices, the body might not be able to absorb nutrients or break down food properly.
The pancreas also produces insulin and glucagon . These hormones are responsible for helping you maintain an optimal blood sugar level. The pancreas releases these hormones directly into your blood.
What are the stages?
Staging a cancer helps your doctor and your cancer care team understand how advanced the cancer is. Knowing the stage is important for selecting the best treatments and therapy options. It also plays a role in your outlook for the future.
Pancreatic cancers are staged on a scale of 0 to 4. The stages are determined by key information:
proximity to lymph nodes
whether its spread to other organs
Stage 0 pancreatic cancer is not invasive, which means it hasnt spread beyond the very top layers of the pancreatic duct, or outside the pancreas. In stage 4 , the most advanced stage, cancer has spread beyond the pancreas and into distant locations in the body. Advanced-stage cancers spread beyond the primary tumor location to nearby tissues, blood vessels, nerves, and other organs. This process is known as metastasis.
Outlook by stage
You may be curious about your prognosis if youve been diagnosed and your stage has been determined. A prognosis is based on information compiled from people who have a similar cancer. Survival statistics may be comforting, or they may be upsetting.
No matter what, they arent definitive. Make sure you discuss your individual outlook with your doctor so you can better understand what it means for you.
Pancreatic cancer survival rates
An outlook is often given in terms of a five-year survival rate. This number refers to the percentage of people who are still alive at least five years after the initial diagnosis. Most survival rates dont look beyond five years, but its important to understand that many people live well beyond that time.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) , also known as islet cell tumors, are a rare type of cancer that develops in the cells responsible for creating insulin and glucagon. Survival rates for this type of pancreatic cancer are different than the more common type of pancreatic cancer with exocrine tumors.
The overall five-year survival rate is about 42 percent for people with this type of tumor, with a better prognosis than the more common pancreatic cancers. However, the five-year survival rate of a person with NETs who didnt have surgery is 16 percent .
These statistics are from people diagnosed between 1985 and 2004. Its important to know that these prognosis numbers are based on technologies and treatments that were used years ago. Treatments are advancing greatly every year. This is good news for people undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer today.
Make sure you speak with your doctor to fully understand what these prognosis numbers mean.
Helping your odds
Improving your outlook
These survival rates are representative of previous years of treatment. As treatments improve, so do survival rates. Additionally, other factors influence your outlook, including your: