New Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Pancreatic Cancer is one of the worse cancers one can have. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It is estimated that on average about 30,000 people are diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer each year.

The pancreas is a gland that is located in the abdomen between the stomach and spine. It is about 6 inches in length and shaped like a pear. The pancreas’s function is to make insulin and other hormones. These hormones help our body’s use and store energy that comes from the food we eat.

Cancer is a group of related diseases. All cancer begins growing as cells. As these cells begin to grow grouping together they form a mass called a growth or tumor.

Pancreatic cancer usually begins to grow in the ducts of the pancreas. As the cancer continues to grow, it can spread outside the pancreas into the lymph nodes, liver, lungs or abdomen.

Some risk factors that may indicate that a person is more incline to get pancreatic cancer are as follows:

Age: (usually over 60)

Smoking

Diabetes

Male

African American

Family History (if your mother, father, sister or brother suffered from pancreatic cancer or colon or ovarian cancer your risk factor triples)

Chronic pancreatitis (a painful condition of the pancreas)

Symptoms of Pancreas cancer can be as follows:

Pain in the upper abdomen or back

Yellowish skin or eyes

Weakness

Loss of appetite

Nausea or vomiting

Weight Loss

Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer will begin with a physical and then may be followed with any of the following: lab tests (blood tests, urine tests), CT scan, ultrasongram, ERCR (this is a procedure where a doctor will pass a scope through the patient’s mouth, stomach down the first intestine. A dye will then be injected and X-rays will be taken). Finally, a biopsy may be performed.

What happens if it is diagnosed as pancreatic cancer? Surgery, medicine and chemotherapy have been the only options.

But the good news is that there is now a new vaccine that may be added to the equation soon. Doctors at John Hopkins Hospital have been doing a new study involving a vaccine that is given to patients suffering from pancreatic cancer. They give this vaccine to them eight weeks after surgery and again after chemo and radiation treatment. The results have been encouraging.

The study has been going on for two years and 76% of the patients who have been receiving the vaccine are still alive compared to 42% of the patients who were only using surgery, chemo and radiation treatments.

The vaccine uses genetically altered cells to try to teach the cells in the body. In a simple way to describe it, the cells create a molecule that teaches the immune cells all ready in the body to recognize and fight cancer cells. Sounds something out of a movie, but it is real. There are walking examples of people out there who are now cancer free after taking these vaccines, after surgery and after chemo.

Another study will begin next year at John Hopkins. Researchers are hoping it will go as well as the first and that the FDA will then approve the vaccine.

If you would like more information on this study you can contact John Hopkins Hospital at:

Vanessa Wasta
Assistant Director, Media and Web Projects
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center
901 S. Bond Street, Suite 573
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 955-1287
www.hopkinskimmelcancercenter.org

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