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Swayze Lived Longer Than Most With Pancreatic Cancer

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 2:50 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Pancreatic Cancer, Swayze, Vitamin D, Alcohol, Cancer, Steve Jobs, Smoking

Patrick Swayze continued working after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, that and his athleticism might have kept him alive longer than the average.

Five Months


IMAGE SOURCE: ABC News Web site / Patrick Swayze, smoker

Actor, dancer, Patrick Swayze lived longer than most who receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Swayze, 57, passed away Monday after living 20-months with cancer of the pancreas, far longer than the few months he was predicted to live.

The median survival time is five months after diagnosis, says Dr. Lucas Wong, co-director of the gastrointestinal cancer program at Scott & White Memorial Hospital and Clinic to ABC News.

That means half will live fewer than five months.

Why Is It Fatal?

There is no early test to detect the disease.

That’s why the death rate within a year of diagnosis is 76 percent. 95 percent of patients will die within five years.

The problem with diagnosing cancer of the pancreas early is that symptoms can be vague. They include a pain in the stomach or abdomen that radiates back, a loss of appetite, depression, and yellowing of the skin, reports Mayo Clinic.

About seven percent of pancreas cancer is diagnosed while it is still confined to the primary location, with 53 percent diagnosed after the cancer has metastasized to another site, as was the case with Swayze.

His stage 4 cancer had metastasized to his liver.

The pancreas is a pear like organ that secretes juices to help with digestion and hormones, including insulin, to help digest sugar.

What Increases Survival?

In Swayze’s case, his athleticism might have increased his time. Growing up in his mother’s dance studio, and attending Joffrey Ballet School, Swayze was a dancer all of his life.

And after his 2008 diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer, he went back to work, sometimes working 12-hour days, during filming for a full season of the A & E series “The Beast”.

Dr. Suresh Chari at the Mayo Clinic who sees patients with pancreatic cancer, says, “I encourage my patients to do whatever their body allows them to do.”

However, many patients are too fatigued from chemotherapy to continue working.

And ABC News reports he benefited from his chemotherapy drug, gemcitabine. Chemotherapy agents tend to benefit some patients.

Risk Factors

On the down side – Swayze was a smoker and continued to smoke after his diagnosis. “Smoking is definitely a risk factor for pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Chari.

Upward of one quarter of 37,000 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed annually may result from smoking.

Diagnosed at stage four – the most serious form – and already in his liver, Dr. Chari says smoking doesn’t matter at that point.

In a video clip that ran on the morning news show, “Good Morning America,” Swayze admits he fought alcoholism.

Alcoholism may be a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. The risk increases among those who have more than four drinks a day. Drinking alcohol excessively is a major cause of chronic pancreatitis, which predisposes one to pancreatic cancer, report British cancer researchers.

Other risk factors including, being overweight or obese, a family history of the disease, and being older.

Most pancreatic cancers occur in people in their 70s and 80s, and the disease occurs slightly more among blacks than in whites.


And diet may play a role.

A National Institutes of Health study, released in June, found people who consume a heavy meat and dairy diet are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

The link between cancer of the pancreas and cancer was strongest when the fat intake was saturated fat from animal sources, which were associated with a 43 percent cancer risk increase.

People who don’t eat many fresh fruits and vegetables are thought to be more at risk. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, and folate in green leafy vegetables, as well as Vitamin C may have a protective effect.

And Vitamin D has been shown to cut pancreatic cancer risk by nearly half, reports the American Association for Cancer Research.

Alternative Therapies

Do alternative therapies work?

Swayze felt he would not spend his time chasing alternatives. He told Barbara Walters that if they worked, the inventors would be very rich or very famous.

A study released in the August Journal of Clinical Oncology, finds an alternative therapy, Gonzalez regimen, offered patients a median survival time less than standard chemotherapy such as gemcitabine.

Other drugs used to fight cancer do not appear to be effective with pancreatic cancer, reports Dr. Wong.

Fighting Pancreatic Cancer

Picking up the disease earlier may be helped by research into protein biomarkers that are identified in the bodily fluid.

In recent years Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the late Professor Randy Pausch, have contracted pancreatic cancer.

Approximately 42,000 Americans will get a pancreatic cancer diagnosis this year. More than 35,000 will die, according to the National Cancer Institute.

It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. #

1 Comment

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 4:01 PM EST

Swayze and his wife wrote a book, 'The Time of My Life" that will be in stores September 29.

In it he says digestive issues, such as acid reflux and bloating, were the symptoms he experienced before his diagnosis.

Comments for this article are closed.

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