It's one of the deadlier cancers, with survival measured in months, not years. That's because pancreatic cancer has no early symptoms, so doctors tend to catch the disease after it's spread to other organs. And while specialists have been reluctant to operate on cancerous tumors in the pancreas (the way, say, they do when you have breast cancer), that may be changing for some patients.
A new study out of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, has found that surgery--combined with chemotherapy and radiation--can be the best option for about a third of pancreatic cancer patients. These are primarily stage 3 patients, whose tumors are large enough to encase blood vessels and arteries, but have not metastasized beyond that. And while the surgery is risky--and those arteries have to be reconstructed--the people who've had the procedure have lived an average of four years, which is a long time for pancreatic cancer patients. Those who have chemotherapy before the operation do best of all.
In another study, this one from England, researchers found that giving patients high doses of vitamin A as they receive chemotherapy helps shrink tumors. The reason: Cancerous cells communicate with normal, healthy cells in order to grow and spread, so anything that can block these signals has the potential to shrink (or starve) the cancerous cells. British researchers found that vitamin A working in combination with chemotherapy did this in mice. A clinical trial with humans is now underway to see if the results are the same.
Click through the gallery below to see these celebrities who've survived their cancers.