How Long Does a Person Live with Pancreatic Cancer?

Last Editorial Review: 3/7/2019

Ask the experts

How serious is cancer in the pancreas? A coworker of mine disappeared for a week and we just got an email Monday that she was experiencing the early signs of pancreatic cancer, and an oncologist confirmed the diagnosis. I'm not close with this coworker, but I'm definitely worried about her. What is the survival rate of pancreatic cancer?

Doctor’s response

Pancreatic cancer is a difficult disease. Even for surgically resectable (and therefore potentially curable) pancreatic tumors, the risk of cancer recurrence and subsequent death remains high.

Consequently, the prognosis of pancreatic cancer usually ranges from fair to poor. Only about 20% of patients undergoing a Whipple procedure for potentially curable pancreatic cancer live five years, with the rest surviving on average less than two years.

For patients with incurable (locally advanced, unresectable, or metastatic) pancreatic cancer, survival is even shorter; typically, it is measured in months. With metastatic disease (stage IV), the average survival is just over six months. The American Cancer Society statistics suggest that for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year survival rate is 20% and the mortality rate is 80%, while the five-year survival rate is 6% with a mortality rate of 94%.

These rates are mainly based on patients diagnosed between 1985 and 2004 and are representative of those patients according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

These data-based survival rates are what are available currently, but they are only estimates and are not predictive about what may happen to each individual. Currently, the ACS advises patients to discuss their individual situation and prognosis with their treatment team of physicians. Doctors around the world continue to study pancreatic cancer and strive to improve treatments, but progress has been difficult to achieve.

At this time, there is no known surveillance strategy to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer for the general population. With only 48,900 new diagnoses a year, screening blood tests or X-rays have never been proven to be cost effective or beneficial. Additionally, doctors do not routinely screen individuals with family members diagnosed with pancreatic cancer aside from the rare instance where a known genetic risk factor is present. Some researchers suggest vitamin D blood levels above 40 ng/ml may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

For more information, read our full medical article on pancreatic cancer.


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