Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Some patients at risk for pancreatic cancer opt to remove the pancreas

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As part of a study with the goal of preventing pancreatic cancer in those who are at very high risk, about 20 people have had their pancreases removed at Johns Hopkins, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

One such individual is Nancy Pratt. Mrs. Pratt has lost both her daughter and mother to the disease. Her daughter was only 37 and lived only three months after diagnosis, leaving two young children. In addition to Mrs. Pratt's family history, an ultrasound revealed numerous pancreatic cysts, leading her to choose the pancreas removal surgery.

The program is under the direction of Dr. Marcia Canto and is limited to high-risk families. Individuals who agree to undergo this removal are "trading the risk of cancer for the reality of diabetes," however, when the reality of pancreatic cancer is taken into account, it seems to be a reasonable choice.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the worst kinds of cancer, both deadly and extremely painful. Nearly all patients will die, with about 37,000 cases expected this year and about 33,000 deaths. Ninety-five percent will die in less than five years. Pancreatic cancer is so deadly partly because it usually evades detection until it is very advanced.

Dr. Eileen O'Reilly, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering is quoted in the article, saying, "It is one of the most challenging human malignancies for sure; I honestly can't think of a worse one."

For more about pancreatic cancer, including information about current paths of research, please see The New York Times article here.

As for Mrs. Pratt, the only regret she has is that they couldn't have removed her daughter's pancreas in time.

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