Pancreatic cancer is usually a diagnosis which means the survival of the patient is in months or a couple of years. The tumours which originate from the pancreas are locally advanced by the time it is even detected by the usual clinical methods. The tumour may also spread to distant organs in advanced cases. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are very few and they are seen only when the cancer is locally advanced. This makes the pancreatic cancer survival time much less as compared to other cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 5%. Even for those with local disease the 5-year relative survival rate is only 16%.
Overall, fewer than 5% of all patients are still alive 5 years after initial diagnosis. The collective median survival time of all patients is 4-6 months. The best predictors of long-term survival after surgery are a tumour diameter of less than 3 cm, no nodal involvement, and negative resection margins. The staging of pancreatic cancer is the best indicator of survival of a patient. The pancreatic cancer survival time depends on the extent to which the cancer has invaded the body. Local or resectable cancer which comprises about ten percent of all cases has the best cancer survival time. In this case the disease is confined only to the pancreas and is clearly separated from the surrounding blood vessels. The treatment options are surgery, and chemotherapy and radiation post operative. The median survival time in this stage is 17 months.
When the patient is in the second stage the cancer is usually so locally advanced that it cannot be removed by surgery. This means the cancer encases or compresses blood vessels which make surgery impossible. The cancer may also invade and destroy the surrounding organs. This stage makes up about 30% of all pancreatic cancer cases. The treatment in this case is usually chemotherapy which is most commonly gemcitabine-based and may be combined with radiation. This type of multi – modality therapy is associated with better survival rates. In very rare instances, cancers that respond well to initial treatment may subsequently be surgically resected. The pancreatic cancer survival time in this case is eight or nine months.
The last stage has the worst pancreatic cancer survival time. This is called the metastatic stage where the cancer is not limited to the surrounding organs but also affects distant ones. The liver is most commonly involved in this stage and the chances of survival in this stage are very bleak. Unfortunately, most cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed in this stage only. Approximately 60% of all pancreatic cancer cases are in the metastatic stage where chemotherapy is the only modality available. Gemcitabine based chemotherapy is the standard treatment in this stage where the median survival time is 4 to 6 months. The therapy also aims at relieving patient symptoms like jaundice or bowel obstruction with surgery and medication to relieve pain.