Pancreatic Cancer: Difficult to Diagnose and Deadly  

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Posted: 12/2/2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Each year, an estimated 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. And each year, almost as many die of pancreatic cancer – including 1,200 in Ohio.

“The bottom line is that pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths,” says Ohio State University pancreatic cancer expert Dr. Peter Muscarella. “It is not uncommon to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and die a short time later, usually within a year.”

The disease is more prevalent in men 60 years and older, Muscarella said. African Americans and Asians have a greater risk for pancreatic cancer, as do smokers.

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, unexplained jaundice and weight loss, said Muscarella, who is a surgeon at the Ohio State University Medical Center and a
researcher in the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC).
Muscarella and other researchers are studying novel therapies for treating pancreatic cancer, a disease that is difficult to diagnose, as well as being deadly.

Preliminary laboratory research on a new compound developed by OSUCCC researchers suggests that the substance may inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer. The compound, developed by Ching-Shih Chen, an OSUCCC researcher who specializes in molecular carcinogenesis and chemoprevention, works by inactivating the “Akt” cellular pathway that is involved in the development of pancreatic cancer.

Muscarella presented the findings earlier this year at the national Hepatopancreaticobiliary Association meeting.

“While additional studies are needed, these findings are promising,” Muscarella said.

Often by the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, the disease has progressed to an advanced stage and physicians can offer little hope to patients, Muscarella said.

“We try to offer them a realistic understanding of what the prognosis of pancreatic cancer is, and offer options such as chemotherapy and radiation that may help prolong their lives or improve their quality of life,” said Muscarella, who is an assistant professor of surgery and gastrointestinal surgery at Ohio State.

In some cases, if the cancer is detected early enough, surgery may be an option that could increase long-term survival, he said. Without surgery, the five-year survival rate is 4 percent.

“It’s the worst prognosis of any of the solid tumors out there,” Muscarella said. “That’s why novel therapies are so desperately needed.”

OSUCCC has a number of clinical trials open to patients with pancreatic cancer who are willing to try experimental therapies, Muscarella said.

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Eileen Scahill
Medical Center Communications


The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) 460 W. 10th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210 Phone: 1-800-293-5066 | Email: