August 20, 2008
Website on Pancreatic Cancer
By Meenakshi Kumar
NEW DELHI: It's one of the most fatal cancers, yet little is known about it. What's worse, more and more people are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in recent years. The numbers may be small - 1-2 new cases per 100,000 people every year - but it's enough to send alarm bells ringing. As it's also a silent killer, few are aware of it till it's late.
"If we look at individual hospitals, then there is an increase in the number of patients. In the last 15-20 years, these have grown five to 10-fold in my hospital itself," says Dr Sudeep Gupta, assistant professor and oncologist, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. National Cancer Registries are the other source of information. There are various reasons for the rise in pancreatic cancer cases. Some feel lifestyle changes and diet have resulted in an increase in all types of diseases. In that respect, pancreatic cancer is no exception. Others feel that more cases are coming to light as more people are reporting the disease.
Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer seldom detected in the first stage. The pancreas lies behind the lower part of the stomach. The symptoms - stomach pain, loss of appetite, jaundice - may not even manifest themselves till the disease has advanced. But once it happens, it's almost fatal. In the US, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Unlike certain cancers such as lung or breast, researchers have still not been able to pinpoint the exact reason for pancreatic cancer. "We can only guess that diet, smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity could be the reasons behind the disease," says Dr Shyam Aggarwal, senior consultant, oncology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi.
Surgery is usually the best treatment. "But in most cases, it's ruled out as the disease is already in an advanced stage," says Dr Malay Nandy, senior consultant, oncology medical, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the other options. However, 80% cases are likely to relapse post surgery and after that, survival is a matter of six months only. Experts say only 10% survive after five years of treatment.
The surgery is complicated and involves the Whipple's procedure, wherein the pancreas are removed. Unfortunately, India has very few oncologists with the expertise to perform this complicated surgery. As so little is known about this disease, the recent launch of a website, www.pancreaticcancerindia.com, touted as the first comprehensive one in Asia on pancreatic and peri ampullary cancers, is welcome. The interactive website will give patients access to the latest research on the disease and to specialists who will answer queries. "It will help patients get information from the best in the field. What makes it more relevant is that it will be totally in an Indian context," informs Aggarwal.
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