Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease. In most cases, it’s fast-moving and usually fatal. But a less well-known cancer can also attack the pancreas. It’s the kind that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs lived with for almost a decade before it claimed his life.
James and Treva McReynolds love walking near their Atlanta home. It keeps them in shape for their world travels like a recent trip to Austria.
“Just strolled the city and did the Vienna pass,” said James.
But in 2013, James began struggling with what he thought was pancreatitis. Instead, doctors removed an unusual pancreatic tumor that later came back in his lymph nodes. It’s called neuroendocrine cancer or net.
“I heard of pancreatic cancer, which killed Patrick Swayze, but this kind of cancer killed Steve Jobs," said James.
Treva was afraid.
“Panic. A little bit of panic. Then you have to start researching and get as many of the details as you can.”
David Kooby, MD, FACS, Chief of Emory Surgery, Northern Arc and Gastrointestinal Surgical Oncologist at Winship Cancer Institute says neuroendocrine tumors account for only about five percent of all pancreatic cancers. Fifty percent of patients have no symptoms at all. For others, the signs can be mild, moderate or severe.
Dr. Kooby said, “Maybe some vague abdominal pain, weight loss, back pain, just because the gland lays at the back of the belly.”
Depending upon the patient, treatment is sometimes surgery or chemo or both. Dr. Kooby says NET is a slower-growing cancer. Steve Jobs lived for nearly 10 years after diagnosis. The average life expectancy for the more common pancreatic cancer is less than one year. Even though it moves slowly, James and Treva were thankful doctors caught the cancer early.
“It is a silent killer. I had no symptoms whatsoever at all before the first surgery or the second surgery.” James shared.
About 12,000 Americans are diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors every year. The five-year survival rate can be as high as 50 percent but it varies, depending upon the stage. By comparison, 53,000 adults will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the five-year survival rate for patients who don’t have surgery is only seven percent.