Pancreatic cancer, the silent killer

By Elizabeth Temple - bio | email


40,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer, a disease dubbed the 'silent killer.' Most of those diagnosed die from the cancer within months, said Dr. Mohammad Khan, an oncologist at Christus St. Patrick's Hospital. He believes the deadly sickness is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to research funding.

"I think right now it doesn't get the attention that it deserves. I think the mindset has been that this cancer is very difficult to treat which is why we don't get a lot of access to research dollars," explained Dr. Khan.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths in America and it all starts in an organ no more than four or six inches long. The pancreas' main function is to produce hormones like insulin and digestive enzymes. If caught early enough, doctors can remove the pancreas, but the patient will have to survive as a diabetic with insulin injections for the rest of their life, said Dr. Khan.

Dr. Khan believes the main problem with pancreatic cancer is by the time doctors catch the cancer it is already in the late stages of growth. He says only about 3% of pancreatic cancer patients are alive after five years, but those who qualify for surgery are living longer. He estimates about 25% of surgery-candidates can live on past five years.

He blames short life-spans and high death rates on the lack of any standardized screening test for pancreatic cancer.

"If we can find a way to detect this cancer early we could get these patients to surgery and that's really in the future what's going to give them the best chance of care," said Dr. Khan.

You can help support pancreatic cancer by walking or running at this year's Purple Stride event this Saturday, December 4, 2010, at Prien Lake Park.

Go to for more information and to register online.

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