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A deadly cancer

Survival rate for pancreatic cancer in single digits

December 1, 2011
By STEPHEN ANDERSON - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - Most people are aware of lung cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer, but the fourth most deadly cancer in both men and women - pancreatic cancer - not only receives the lowest amount of attention, but also has the lowest survival rate.

Pancreatic cancer survival rates have remained in the single digits for 40 years and the five-year survival rate is just 6 percent. In hopes of raising both awareness and survival rates, November was pancreatic cancer awareness month.

In 2008, 1,500 Michigan citizens were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 1,300 died from the disease, according to Gov. Rick Snyder's proclamation of pancreatic cancer awareness month in Michigan.

Article Photos

Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Dr. Rifat Elkhatib, who is board-certified in oncology and internal medicine at Portage Health, is seen here at his desk in June. He helps treat pancreatic cancer — the fourth-most deadly cancer — locally.

"We encourage citizens throughout the state to learn more about this disease and support efforts to develop effective treatments and a cure," added the proclamation.

The leading organization in the fight against pancreatic cancer is the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which combines research, supports individuals and families living with the disease, raises awareness and builds and sustains federal support for fighting the disease.

"We have a vision to ... double the survival rate by the year 2020," Dr. Selwyn Vickers of the PCAN Scientific Advisory Board said in the organization's vision statement. "By accelerating the application of our proven comprehensive approach to fighting the disease ... the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will turn this vision of progress into reality. Everyone must know, fight and end pancreatic cancer."

Every year 43,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and of those, 36,000 will die in the same year, according to Dr. Rifat Elkhatib, a board-certified oncologist from Portage Health who is fighting the debilitating disease locally.

"Pancreatic cancer is very, very bad,"?Elkhatib said. "The problem is it's inside the abdomen, so whenever you have a lump in the pancreas, you cannot feel it until it is unfortunately too late. This is why 75 to 80 percent of pancreatic cancer is diagnosed late, when it's really advanced in stage and is difficult to restrict."

While the survival rate is low, Elkhatib said increased awareness and recognition of risk factors - some of which may be surprising - and symptoms can help catch it earlier and increase survival chances.

"People should be aware that smoking is associated with pancreatic cancer. Most people think it's only associated with lung cancer, but it can influence a lot of cancers," said Elkhatib, who added that too much alcohol, pancreatitis and genetic disposition can be additional risk factors.

"We always recommend a healthy lifestyle - control the weight, control the sugar," Elkhatib said. "Of course give up smoking, moderate alcohol intake and pay attention to the symptoms and go to see your doctor as soon as possible."

Stomach pain, diabetes mellitus, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, loss of appetite and even depression, particularly in older people, can be potential symptoms of pancreatic cancer - and early detection is critical.

"Patients need to discuss those symptoms with their physicians and do their imaging on time and discover it," Elkhatib said.

If the cancer is caught in stage one or two, surgical intervention is possible, but in just 3 to 6 months, the cancer can spread to other organs, making successful intervention almost impossible.

While a wide variety of doctors, surgeons, oncologists and gastroenterologists are involved in treating pancreatic cancer once it's diagnosed, all care can be done locally.

"Management of pancreatic cancer has many people involved, and a significant amount of this care can be done at Portage ... and between Portage and Marquette (General Hospital), we can take care of pancreatic cancer 100 percent," Elkhatib said.

For more information about pancreatic cancer, visit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's website at



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