Report: 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer rises to 10 %

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- A new report shows the 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer has hit double digits for the first time ever.

When Steve Lipshetz joined the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Milwaukee back in 2011, he said the 5-year survival rate was just 5 percent.

“We're the lowest five year survival rate of any of the major cancers,” said Lipshetz. “In Wisconsin we’re the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in our state.”

According to the American Cancer Society’s annual report, 57,600 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year (2020). Of those, 47,050 are not expected to beat the cancer. When looking at projected numbers in Wisconsin, the survival rate of 1,120 diagnosed cases is about the same.

Although survival rates are still low, the American Cancer Society’s annual report shows the 5-year survival rate for all patients diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer has climbed to double digits for the first time ever.

“So the news that we finally hit double digit survival rates, gotten up to 10% of survival rates, is huge for raising awareness and also improving the spirits of those who currently suffer from pancreatic cancer,” said Steve Lipshetz with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Milwaukee.

Dr. Kevin Mortara, an Oncologist with the Cancer Team at Bellin Health in Green Bay, said the survival rate includes all patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, including cases where surgery is not an option.

“From my perspective, it would be important to differentiate that there are two different groups of people that are included in this number,” said Dr. Mortara. “One, a group of people that never were going to be candidates for surgery. For the other group of patients, it's still. unfortunately, a very serious situation, but the prognosis might be slightly better.”

Dr. Mortara said every pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is different, so he says people shouldn’t take that survival percentage at face value.

“If we are fortunate enough to have somebody walk in and have been caught early. I'd rather they not have the idea that, ‘Hey, somebody told me that I only have a 10% chance to live five years,’ because it's not necessarily true across the entire spectrum,” said Dr. Mortara.

Early detection is key when it comes to any cancer diagnosis, but when it comes to pancreatic cancer, health experts say it’s hard to detect.

“It's because generally the patients, when they're in their earlier stages, do not have symptoms. So nobody's looking,” said Dr. Mortara. Pancreatic cancer symptoms vary, but common symptoms include pain in the abdomen, decreased appetite, weight loss and sometimes jaundice.

Dr. Mortara says research is ongoing.

“There have been a lot of advances, especially within the last 10 years, with the increased genetic information that we're getting, but it turns out that the whole discussion is a very complicated one,” said Dr. Mortara. “One patient's pancreatic cancer isn’t the same as the next patient’s pancreatic cancer…. And while we continue to be optimistic that we are advancing, the more we find out, I think it's fair to say the more complicated we recognize that the whole problem is to start with.”

Lipshetz says research is the key to everything and it starts with waging hope.

“Well more awareness leads, of course to more fundraising. The more fundraising, the more research that is done,” said Lipshetz.

For more information about waging hope against pancreatic cancer, visit https://www.pancan.org/