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Patrick Swayze Diagnosed With Pancreas Cancer

Patrick Swayze, the popular actor perhaps known best for his role in the 1987 hit movie “Dirty Dancing,” reportedly has pancreas cancer (commonly called pancreatic cancer). Pancreas cancer is among the more deadly forms of cancer. I asked Revolution Health cancer expert Heinz-Josef Lenz, M.D., professor of medicine and professor of preventive medicine in the Division of Medical Oncology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, to explain pancreas cancer.

Dr. Val: Why is pancreas cancer so much more deadly (i.e. less treatable) than many other forms of cancer?

Dr. Lenz: Unfortunately we don’t have very effective drugs for pancreas cancer, which makes it one of the deadliest cancers of all. The median survival is about 8 months with metastatic disease. Even when the tumor is successfully removed there is a very high risk for tumor recurrence. We need more funding to better understand the risk for pancreas cancer and identify and develop more effective therapies.

Dr. Val: Can you describe the typical course of metastatic pancreas cancer?

Dr. Lenz: Unfortunately, the 5 year survival rate for pancreas cancer is only 15 to 20%. The average survival after diagnosis is 12 to 19 months. The best predictor of long term survival is if the tumor is found and removed before it reaches 3 cm in size. Patients with metastatic pancreas cancer are usually treated with a combination chemotherapy consisting of gemcitabine, tarceva, xeloda or oxaliplatin. However the response rates are (despite using aggressive combination therapies) low. Large clinical trials recently did not show any benefit from erbitux or avastin, again demonstrating that pancreas cancer therapy is a difficult clinical challenge.

Dr. Val: Are certain populations at higher risk than others for pancreas cancer?

Dr. Lenz: Age is the most important risk factor for this cancer. It is most common in individuals over age 50 and increases in frequency with age. Black men and women are slightly more likely to get pancreas cancer (though the reasons for this are unclear), and men are slightly more likely than women to get the cancer. Other risk factors are smoking, diabetes, and obesity.

Dr. Val: If you suspect that someone is “high risk” for pancreas cancer, what tests should he/she have?

Dr. Lenz:  Patients with a genetic predisposition for breast cancer known as BRCA are also at higher risk for pancreas cancer. There is also a familial form of pancreas cancer. These high risk families are being followed up with specific screening plans. However there is not a reliable test for pancreas cancer. Imaging with CT or MRI can miss pancreas cancer and there is no reliable blood marker. The most common used is CA 19-9, which can be used for monitoring and diagnosis but is not elevated in all patients.

Dr. Val: What if the cancer is caught very early? Does that increase likelihood of survival?

Dr. Lenz: Absolutely. The best chance of survival is when the cancer is limited to the pancreas, and is surgically removed before it reaches a size of 3 centimeters. There are certainly people who have been cured this way, but unfortunately it’s very rare to catch the cancer at such an early stage since it usually has no symptoms until it’s quite advanced.


There is a wonderful advocacy group for those whose lives are touched by pancreas cancer: PanCAN. One of PanCAN’s founders, Paula Kim, is a friend of mine and was inspired to create the organization after her dad was diagnosed with pancreas cancer in 1999. At that time there was very little advocacy for this deadly disease. PanCAN helps people with pancreas cancer find help and support.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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5 Responses to “Patrick Swayze Diagnosed With Pancreas Cancer”

  1. superbrat247 says:

    Hi Patrick

    ………..I just want to let you and ur wife to know my prayers are with u both my husband just turned 58 dec 26 th and was told he had pancreatic cancer and it already went into his liver they are giving him chemo but i dont think its working to well so we just take one day at a time im not sure if u will get this but i couldnt find a site to send u a message god be with u and bless u both keep up ur spirts i know at times its gonna be hard just keep in mind u have alot of people praying for you

  2. Mz. Lovely says:

    First of all, I would like to thank everyone who have posted their comments on this blog.  Secondly, my heart goes out to Patrick Swayze and his family.  I certainly can feel their pains. Patrick is a superb person and a excellent actor, I’ve always loved his movies, especially Ghost. I would like to tell Patrick to stay postitive and keep his faith!  Take one day at a time!  I understand how he feels and what his family is going through at this diffcult time.  My mother was recently diagnosed with Pancreas Cancer (March ’08) she 80 years old.  I’ve seen her pain and decreasing of her appetite.  she have good days, and bad days.  But it’s one thing I can see in her, she have strong faith in God.  My family is a Christian Family and we are going to fight this battle with faith.  Satan is a liar!  God has already blessed my mom with 80 years on this earth, and I know he is going to bless her with more. So Patrick don’t give up!  Hold your head up high and keep that beautiful smile on your face.  With God anything is Possible!  We can win this battle!!  My prayers are with you and your loved ones.  Luv U!

  3. Mz. Lovely says:

    …..if any one would like to email me please feel free @

    Mz. Lovely

  4. jamal1115 says:

    hello there my dad have pancreas cancer it was cought at early stage itwas on the tail of the pancreas 40% was removed and lip nose after surgery was neg  its been three months he has lost 31 lb since he has been eating and food dos not digest last week went for a check up had new cacts scan and xray  now one of his lip nose is swelling cancer dr said he need to do cemo therphy and that it is posiable that the cancer is back if so my dad may not live more the 8 month to a year he is 80  very strong man he wants to live he is a figter to live i need  help keep my dad a LIVE AS LOON AS POSABLE

  5. ugene says:


    Great to hear that your doing so good and going back to work.  I’m a Pancreas Cancer Survivor myself sent you several e-mails. Two years and two month on 6/10/08.  Doing great my self. I declined chemotherapy, radiation and surgical resection.  I’m on a nutritional and herbal supplement program right now and looking into some clinical trials on TnFerad it in Phase III right now.  Would love to know what your doing?  Check out

    Don’t listen to Statistics keep your Faith and Dreams going and seek out the SECRET.

    You got it..

    Best of luck


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