Pancreatic cancer claims so many lives because often it isn't detected until it's too late. Yet, it is the fourth most deadly form of cancer. Every year, 45,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 40,000 of them will die.
One of the fortunate few alive five years after her diagnosis shares her story.
"I did not have one single symptom, not one," Lessley Hynson recalls learning she had pancreatic cancer.
She had gone to the doctor because of headaches. During a ct scan it was discovered she had an abnormality in her pancreas. "I knew it was a serious diagnosis, I didn't take it lightly," said Hynson. "It was significant that it was found that early. Because I was having no symptoms of anything being wrong." The tumor was removed and Hynson went through chemo-therapy. She's now five years, into remissionher story is a rarity. "By just having past the five year survival point, I am in the less than three percent in the world to be surviving," Hynson.
Dr. Sushanth Reddy, an oncologist at UAB's comprehensive cancer center says, "Because we have difficulty detecting it in the early stage, it's usually pretty far gone by the time we see it."Reddy says, many patients don't know where the pancreas is located.
"The pancreas is an organ located in the back of your abdomen, it starts in the right side and goes to the left side behind the stomach," Reddy explains.
Reddy, says unlike breast and colon cancer, there are no specific screenings for pancreatic cancer.
Like Hynson's discovery, most are found through ct scans."Most people here get cat scans for a variety of reasons," says Reddy. "We find incidental, or non-expected abnormalities within the pancreas and we're starting to study to understand which of these abnormalities will lead to pancreatic cancer."Reddy says, it's important to know the signs of the disease. However, once the signs show, the cancer has become advanced. "If it's located on the right side of the pancreas, the most common sign is jaundice, where the patient starts turning yellow, the bile ducts back up and the patient becomes yellow," says Reddy. "If the cancer is on the left side of the pancreas, it's usually non specific abdominal pain, because it's gotten so big it's starting to grow into something."
The disease has many unknowns. Dr. Reddy says common risk factors for pancreatic cancerinclude smoking, and family history. "We don't really know why yet, we don't know the genetic linkage," says Reddy.For Lessley Hynson, she knows each day is a blessing.
Now, she's sharing her story with others. "It's been a wonderful journey, absolutely wonderful journey," says Hynson. "This is the absolute truth, I would not take it back. I would not take it back."
Dr. Reddy, with the UAB comprehensive cancer center says, as with any cancer, the best ways to cure are through, surgery, chemo-therapy and radiation therapy. He says three are really needed for any type of cure. Reddy says right now at UAB, research is taking place to work toward prevention and trying to catch these cancers at an earlier state.
Lessley Hynson still undergoes clinical trials at UAB to help researchers learn more about the potential causes of the disease.
She says, while it may not help her, it could help someone in the future.