Swayze diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

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According to reports, he is responding well to treatment and is optimistic about the outcome.

This comes just months after beloved Italian opera star Luciano Pavarotti died after a long battle against pancreatic cancer.

He was diagnosed in 2006 and underwent surgery that year. He received further treatment for two weeks in August 2007 and was then released from hospital. However, in early September 2007, Pavarotti lost consciousness and suffered kidney failure during the final stages of the illness. He died on September 6, 2007 at his home in Modena.

What is pancreatic cancer, who gets it and how can it be treated?

Here are some quick facts:

  • Cancer of the pancreas is responsible for about five percent of cancer deaths annually in the world.
  • It is often referred to as the “silent disease”, because symptoms are few and non-specific. This leads to late diagnosis in the majority of cases.
  • It affects people over the age of 50 and most suffers are aged 65 to 80 at the time of diagnosis. Men are more at risk than women.
  • Cancer occurs when cells begin to divide without order or control. These cells may invade and destroy tissue around them. The cancer cells can break away from the original tumour and enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system.
  • Several types of cancer can develop in the pancreas. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices. A very rare type of pancreatic cancer may begin in the cells that produce insulin and other hormones.
  • There is no definite cause for pancreatic cancer, however, several risk factors have been identified. Smokers develop the disease more often than do non-smokers. A diet high in red meat and animal fats also appears to put one at risk. Diabetics (mainly insulin-dependent) develop pancreatic cancer twice as often as non-diabetics. Chronic inflammation of the pancreas as well as a previous history of upper gastro-intestinal surgery is also a risk factor. A family history of the disease as well as a history of colon or ovarian cancer increases the risk.
  • Cancer of the pancreas may be present for some time before symptoms appear. When symptoms do appear, they depend on the location and the size of the tumour.
  • If the tumour is located in the head of the pancreas it may block the bile duct preventing bile to pass into the intestine. The skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow and the urine dark as a result of a condition known as jaundice. Other related symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss and weakness.
  • Cancer of the pancreas is hard to control. It can only be cured when found at an early stage. However, if the disease is advanced, treatment can improve the quality of life for a person by controlling the symptoms and complications.
  • Treatment options available are curative surgery done by a specialist, pancreatectomy, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

(Health24, updated March 2008)

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