• By Jason Howland

Mayo Clinic Minute: Understanding pancreatic cancer

November 30, 2018

Pancreatic cancer can be a frightening diagnosis. Compared to most other cancers, survival rates are much lower and death often occurs at a more rapid pace. In this Mayo Clinic Minute, a leading expert in pancreatic cancer at Mayo Clinic explains more about the disease and potential future improvements in treating and screening for it.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

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Pancreatic cancer is the most lethal cancer in the human body with overall five-year survival rates at just about 7 percent, despite all the advances over the past decades, says Dr. Santhi Swaroop Vege, director of the pancreatic diseases group at Mayo Clinic.

There are no telltale signs for pancreatic cancer, and symptoms like weight loss, abdominal pain, jaundice and appetite loss are nonspecific.

"That's one of the biggest problems we face," says Dr. Vege. "Usually, these people will have indigestion, acid reflux ... before finally somebody thinks of doing a CT scan. And by that time, it's already late."

He says treatments can be any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and endoscopic procedures.

"If it is localized to the pancreas and if it is not involving the major structures, then the best treatment, of course, is resection — a big surgery," says Dr. Vege.

While a standard screening test doesn't exist, Mayo Clinic researchers are diligently working on enriching patients with new-onset diabetes, along with some other features to create early screening opportunities.

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