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Pancreatic Cancer

Scot Ackerman , M.D.

August 17, 2021

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most silent but deadly types of cancers. It often does not cause symptoms and is not found until the cancer has grown to a large size and/or spread outside of the pancreas. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 60,000 people will be diagnosed with and 48,000 people will die from pancreatic cancer this year. Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers.

Earlier this month, Hall of Fame college football coach and Florida State University legend, Bobby Bowden, sadly passed away due to pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed in July 2021 at the age of 91 years old, and passed away a few weeks later. Dr. Ackerman joined WJXT to discuss why pancreatic cancer is undetectable in its early stages, and the common risk factors, symptoms, and treatments to be aware of.


The current 5-year relative survival rates for pancreatic cancer in the United States are categorized by how far the cancer has spread- locally, regionally, or distantly. The survival rates are the following:

  • Localized- 39%
  • Regional- 13%
  • Distant- 3%
  • Combined-10%

Risk Factors

While you can still be diagnosed with cancer without being at high risk, the most common risk factors include the following:

  • Tobacco use- Risk is two times higher for smokers
  • Obesity- Obese people are about 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer
  • Diabetes- Prevalent in people with type 2 diabetes, which is often related to obesity
  • Age- Average age at the time of diagnosis is 70 years old
  • Gender- Men are slightly more likely to be diagnosed, which may be due to higher use of tobacco products
  • Race- Black people are more likely to be diagnosed than Caucasian people
  • Inherited genetic syndromes- Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, hereditary breast cancer, familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome, familial pancreatitis, Lynch syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome


Pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer death largely because there are no detection tools to diagnose this disease in its early stages when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible.

  • Surgery- Studies have shown that removing only part of a pancreatic cancer does not help patients live longer, therefore surgery should only be done if the surgeon thinks all of the cancer can be removed
    • Whipple procedure is the most common surgery
    • Distal and total pancreatectomy are also common
  • Chemotherapy- Given prior to surgery to shrink tumor and make resectable, and/or given after surgery to lower the chance of cancer coming back
    • Often given for a total of 3 to 6 months
  • Radiation Therapy- Proton Therapy- Given in addition to chemotherapy, prior to and/or after surgery
    • Spares the liver, kidneys, and digestive system from radiation
    • Reduces risk of liver and kidney failure and potentially fatal weight loss caused by radiation exposure to the small intestine
    • Studies have shown that advancements in proton therapy may allow for a potential cure


To view the full interview with Dr. Scot Ackerman and WJXT, click here.

To learn more about the treatment options offered at Ackerman Cancer Center, click here.




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