Posts Tagged ‘cancer of the pancreas’

Simple Gifts

Emory Healthcare Market Services Team

Chatting before the start of an editorial meeting, Lynne Anderson told us about a family she had adopted through Winship’s Adopt-A-Family program, one supporting needy families stricken by cancer.  My colleague Morgan and I were so moved and unexpectedly brought to tears by the story (I didn’t even have tissues ready!) that we proposed our marketing team adopt a family as our group’s annual holiday community building event.  Everyone readily agreed – and even better to be helping members of our own Emory community.

While participation was voluntary, it wasn’t surprising that we had 100% participation from our team. After all is there a more noble cause then helping a family in need when confronted by a life-threatening illness? Even though we weren’t able to fill every wish on our family’s list, we were able to provide enough so that every member of the 6-person family, whose patriarch is battling pancreatic cancer, would each have a few gifts under the tree and also provide a gift card to help with daily expenses. In addition to helping a family, it gave our team a chance for fellowship as we gathered to wrap gifts and enjoy a few moments away from the hectic pace of the busy work day.

Our whole team got to benefit from the joy of giving, but I was honored to be the one to deliver the gifts to the family.  The mom and granddaughter greeted me at the door when I arrived. The rest of the family simply enjoying each other’s company sitting by the tree, catching up on the daily news or finishing the day’s homework. They were gracious accepting our humble gifts.  The youngest among them already delighted to play with the colorful bows.  I didn’t stay very long, but I was there long enough to feel the love in the room and their appreciation for a group of strangers who wanted to bring a little joy to their family for Christmas.

As I was driving home down winding country roads and gazing out over the serene rolling hills, Aaron Copeland’s Simple Gifts movement from his ballet Appalachian Spring popped into my head.  Da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum, da da dum…. I have been humming, singing the simple beautiful tune ever since, thinking about this family.  I hope, dare I say I know, we brought them some extra joy and blessings for the holidays.  But I just can’t stop thinking, what happens to this family on December 26th or February, March, April? Long after the decorations are put away and we go about our daily lives with the giving spirit of the season left behind us for another year, what happens to this and other families still in need?

Unfortunately long-term survival rates for pancreatic cancer patients are bleak with the 5-year survival rate barely reaching 6%1.  While I desperately hope otherwise, I know even tougher times are ahead this family as the dad’s cancer progresses.  When he can no longer work, who will be there to help?  And how will they pick up the pieces and move on when the inevitable happens?

While little can help ease the emotional struggle, at least there are options to help with financial hardship.  I was pleased to learn that Winship has a patient assistance fund to help families-in-need year-round.  So as you are considering your new year’s resolutions for 2012, instead of making empty promises to yourself, why not consider how you can help extend the holiday spirit throughout the year?  Whether it is donating funds to a program like Winship’s Patient Assistance Fund or by volunteering at a soup kitchen in the spring, there are many simple ways to help families in need throughout the year.

Our simple gifts mean much to these families. So now instead of feeling down as I hum my the shaker tune, I am hopeful and reminded of the joy givers and receivers find in simple gifts.

Simple Gifts (By Elder Joseph Brackett Jr., 1848)

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right,’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.When true simplicity is gain’d, To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d, To turn, turn will be our delight ’Till by turning, turning we come round right.

http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/pancreas.html#survival

How Can I Help?

If you’re interested in helping a family of a cancer patient not just during the holidays, but year-round, the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University’s Patient Assistance Fund helps provide assistance to families throughout the year. Please use the link above for more information, or contact Mark Hughes by phone at: 404-778-1288 or via email at: mthughe@emory.edu

Related Resources:

An Intro to Pancreatic Cancer Part II: Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

 

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Last week, we gave you an intro to Pancreatic Cancer, including statistics, information on the types of pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic cancer risk factors. As promised, this week, we’re following up with information on preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer of the pancreas.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

Much of the advice you’ll see for cancer prevention is similar across cancers. A few things you can do to help improve your health and fight off cancer, including pancreatic cancer, include: quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Diagnosing Cancer of the Pancreas

Diagnosing cancer of the pancreas can involve a variety of tests and assessments. As is true in any attempt to diagnose a medical condition, a thorough evaluation of a patient’s medical history, risk factors, and symptoms is conducted. Imaging tests, including CT, MRI, PET, ultrasound, and others may be used along with potential biopsies and blood tests.

Treating Cancer of the Pancreas

There are three main modes of treatment in combating pancreatic cancer:

  1. Surgery – Parts or the entire pancreas may be removed depending on the location and stage of the pancreatic cancer. The whipple procedure can be used when the cancer is in the head of the pancreas and involves the removal of the head of the pancreas and parts of the bile ducts, small intestine, and stomach; distal pancreatectomy removes the body and tail of the pancreas and the spleen; and total pancreatectomy removes the entire pancreas, part of the small intestine, a portion of the stomach, the common bile duct, the gallbladder, the spleen, and nearby lymph nodes.
  2. Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is medication delivered to the body to eliminate cancer cells or greatly reduce their effect. It targets cells that divide rapidly, a characteristic of most cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used to support and enhance other cancer treatment modalities.
  3. Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses ionizing radiation energy to kill cancer cells and shrink cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy serves to either destroy cancerous cells or damage these cells to impede the division and growth of the cancer.

Physicians at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University specialize in these treatments, while researchers at Winship are exploring new and novel treatments for pancreatic cancer, including a number of clinical trials for pancreatic cancer treatment.

Related Resources:

Intro to Pancreatic Cancer Part I: Stats, Types, & Risk Factors

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Before we dig a bit deeper into pancreatic cancer in this two-part blog post, below are some important stats you should be aware of. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and American Cancer Society:

  • pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in the U.S.
  • 1.41% of men and women born today will be diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas at some time during their lifetime
  • the median age for diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was 72 years old (based on data from ‘04-’08)
  • the median age of death as a result of pancreatic cancer was 73 years old (based on data from ‘04-’08)
  • 0.53% of men will develop cancer of the pancreas between their 50th and 70th birthdays compared to 0.39% for women
  • About 44,030 people (22,050 men and 21,980 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Types

According to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, “A pancreatic cancer type is based on the location of the tumor’s origin within the pancreas. More than 95 percent of pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas of the exocrine pancreas. Tumors of the endocrine pancreas are much less common and most are benign.”

  • Acinar Cell Cancers: Acinar cell cancers are tumors that form on the ends of the pancreatic ducts.
  • Adenocarcinoma: An adenocarcinoma is a cancer that begins in the cells that line certain internal organs and have secretory properties. In the pancreas, this is a cancer of the exocrine cells that line the pancreatic ducts.
  • Cystic Tumors: Cystic tumors derive their name from the presence of fluid filled sacs within the pancreas. The fluid is produced by the lining of abnormal tissues or tumors. These tumors may lead to cancer in some patients; however, most cystic tumors of the pancreas are benign.
  • Sarcomas: Sarcomas are tumors that form in the connective tissue that bonds pancreatic cells together and are rare.

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

  • Age:  Nearly 90% of those with pancreatic cancer are older than 55 years and over 70% are older than 65.
  • Gender: Pancreatic cancer incidence rates are higher among men than women, but it is possible that this can be attributed to higher tobacco use incidence rates among men.
  • Weight: According to the NCI, “In a pooled analysis of clinical data,  higher body mass index was associated with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, independent of other risk factors.”
  • Cigarette Smoking: According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer risk is 2-3x higher for smokers than non-smokers. About 20% to 30% of exocrine pancreatic cancer cases are thought to be caused by cigarette smoking.

Next week, we’ll follow up with more information on pancreatic cancer, including steps you can take to lower your risk (prevention), symptoms of cancer of the pancreas, and how pancreatic cancer is diagnosed and treated.

In the meantime, if you have questions about pancreatic cancer, please leave them for us in the comments below. All comment responses will be provided by physicians of Emory Healthcare and/or the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Wear Purple to Show Your Support, November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Pancreatic CancerLung cancer gets a lot of attention during November, but did you know that November is also Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month?

If you’ve seen a lot of people wearing purple this month, they’re doing it to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cancer killer in the United States. The color represents more than 32,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with the disease this year and almost as many who will die because of it by year’s end.

Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, an organ located in the abdomen that helps to make enzymes for food digestion. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect because the symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, and abdominal discomfort are vague and associated with many other illnesses. When the pancreas produces too much insulin, other symptoms such as chills, diarrhea, general feelings of weakness, and muscle spasms may also be experienced. But these symptoms rarely occur in the early stages of the disease and they set in gradually, causing it to go untreated and producing devastatingly low survival rates.

If a doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, imaging tests may be done to gain a better view of the pancreas. But according to Charles Staley, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Emory University School of Medicine and the Winship Cancer Institute, “Pancreatic tumors are difficult to image because they don’t show up very well on CT scans and MRI.”

In an effort to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer in its earlier states, Emory researchers have tested a molecule that specifically binds pancreatic cancer cells to tiny “nanoparticles” made of iron oxide. The iron makes the particles clearly visible under magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If the tumor can be imaged better, radiation or chemotherapy may be able to be put into these particles to deliver them directly to the tumor. This could eventually mean higher survival rates.

There is no proven way to prevent pancreatic cancer, but researchers have identified several risk factors. Smokers are two to three time more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smokers and African-Americans are diagnosed more frequently than other races. Increased age, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis and a family history of pancreatic cancer are also common risk factors.

To hear more from Dr. Staley on how he treats patients with rare cancers, listen to his podcast.

You can also visit the Winship Cancer Institute’s website to get more resources on pancreatic cancer, including its diagnosis and treatment.