Pancreatic Cancer Touches The Black Community, Too

A senior man smilingWhat is pancreatic cancer? Celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, James Moody and Reverend James Bevel have all helped raise the awareness of pancreatic cancer in the Black community.

The survival rate of pancreatic cancer is dismal to begin with. Only 1 of 4 people with pancreatic cancer survive one year past diagnosis. Five years out, only 1 of every 20 are still alive. And, the black community is harder hit.

Black men and women are more likely to develop this relatively rare cancer than other groups, with black men having the worst survival rate (Surprisingly, for unknown reasons, the survival rate of black women is the same as white men and women).

Despite its impact, few have ever heard about the disease prior to Jobs’ death. So, here’s the low-down on this not so often discussed condition.

Who gets pancreatic cancer?
Last year, over 40,000 Americans were diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. In the same year, nearly 37,000 died. The average age at time of diagnosis is 72.

What does the pancreas do?

The pancreas plays two key roles: one is to produce juices to help digest or break down food, and the other is to help control blood sugar. Type 1 or juvenile diabetes – different from adult diabetes – develops when the pancreas does not function properly.

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Will Cancer Soon Be America’s #1 Killer?

medical staff reading a xray
According to the American Cancer Society, one particular group now suffers more from cancer-related deaths than deaths from heart disease – and the rest of the country may be only a few years behind.

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Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the primary killer among Hispanics in the U.S., and while death rates for both cancer and heart disease have been dropping for everyone, heart disease deaths have fallen faster, largely because of improved treatment and prevention, including the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Overall, cancer will probably replace heart disease as the nation’s top cause of death in the next 10 years, said Rebecca Siegel of the American Cancer Society, lead author of a study reporting the new findings.

Government health statisticians think the crossover point could be reached as early as this year, or at least in the next two or three years.

The reason it has already happened among Hispanics is that they are younger on average than non-Hispanic whites and blacks. And cancer tends to kill people earlier in life than heart disease, for decades the nation’s top cause of death.

The shift could bring about a change in disease-prevention efforts, government spending priorities and people’s attitudes.

“We’ve been so focused on heart disease mortality for so long. … This may change the way people look at their risk,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control branch that monitors death statistics.

The study is being published in the September/October issue of a cancer society publication, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.