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Statistics and outlook for pancreatic cancer

Men and women discussing pancreatic cancer

This page is about the outlook for people with pancreatic cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Statistics and outlook of pancreatic cancer

Outlook means your chances of getting better. Your doctor may call this your prognosis. With pancreatic cancer, the likely outcome depends on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed.

In this page, we have quite detailed information about the likely outcome of different stages of pancreatic cancer. The statistics we use are taken from a variety of sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. They are intended as a general guide only. For the more complete picture in your case, you’d have to speak to your own specialist.

We include statistics because people ask for them, but not everyone wishes to read this type of information. Remember you can skip this page if you don't want to read it. You can always come back to it.

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics cannot tell you about the different treatments people may have had, or how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating pancreatic cancer section.

 

 

About the information on this page

Most of the information on this page is about the survival rates of the most common type of pancreatic cancer, adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. We have included it because many people have asked us for this. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wishes to read this type of information. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment or not, then perhaps you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.

 

Cancer statistics in general

There are no national statistics available for different stages of cancer or treatments that people may have. The statistics we present here are pulled together from a variety of different sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts that check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. We provide statistics because people ask us for them. But they are only intended as a general guide and cannot be regarded as any more than that.

There is a section explaining more about the different types of cancer statistics in the section about incidence, mortality and survival. Unless you are very familiar with medical statistics, you may find it helpful to read this before you read the information below.

Remember - statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They cannot predict exactly what will happen to you. No two patients are exactly alike and response to treatment also varies from one person to another.

You should feel free to ask your doctor about your outlook, but even they can't tell you for sure what will happen. You may hear your doctor use the term 1 year survival or 5 year survival for example. This relates to the proportion of people who are alive 1 or 5 years after diagnosis. Doctors use these statistics to compare how well different treatments work.

 

Outcome overall and by stage

Sadly, pancreatic cancer has a very poor outlook overall. Of all adults with pancreatic cancer, about 19 in every 100 (19%) live for at least 1 year after they are diagnosed. Only about 4 out of every 100 people diagnosed (4%) live for at least 5 years. And only 3 out of every 100 (3%) lives for at least 10 years.

As with many other types of cancer, the outcome depends on how advanced your cancer is when it is diagnosed. In other words, it depends on the stage of your pancreatic cancer. Generally speaking, pancreatic cancer diagnosed early will have a better outlook than pancreatic cancer diagnosed when it is advanced.

One reason for the poor outlook of pancreatic cancer is that it is often diagnosed late. By the time someone has symptoms, goes to their doctor and is diagnosed, the disease is very often quite advanced. Only about 10 to 20 out of every 100 people (10 to 20%) can have surgery.

Unfortunately most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are told that they may have less than a year to live. But specialists working in leading cancer centres throughout the world, often report slightly better statistics than this based on clinical trials that they are carrying out. But we still need more research and clinical trials before the outlook for people with this type of cancer improves.

Early stages

Even for those people diagnosed early, the outlook is not very good. If the cancer has not spread outside of the pancreas, and surgery is possible, then about 20 out of 100 people (20%) will be alive 5 years later. In those who do not live this long, it is likely that a small number of cancer cells spread from the pancreas before surgery and travelled to other parts of the body. These cells would have been too small to be picked up on scans, but are capable of growing into other tumours later.

Advanced stages

For people diagnosed with locally advanced disease, which cannot be removed by an operation, the average life expectancy is about 8 to 12 months. For people whose cancer has already spread to another part of their body, the average life expectancy is only a few months. But this can vary a lot depending on how much the cancer has grown and where it has spread.

 

Other factors

There are 2 other factors that can affect your outlook, apart from the stage of your cancer. These are

  • The grade
  • How well you are overall

Cancer cells are graded according to how like or unlike normal cells they are when looked at under a microscope. There are 4 groups (from grades 1 to 4), according to the size and appearance of the nucleus of the cancer cells. Grade 1 cancer cells are the most similar to normal cells. They may also be called well differentiated or low grade cancer cells. Grade 4 cancer cells are most unlike normal cells. These may be called undifferentiated or high grade cancer cells. Generally speaking, the higher the grade, the more quickly the cancer is likely to grow.

Doctors also have a way of grading how well you are. They call this your performance status. You may see this written PS. A score of 0 means you are completely able to look after yourself. A score of 1 means you can do most things for yourself, but need some help. The scores continue to go up to 4, depending on how much help you need. This is relevant to survival because overall, the fitter people are, the better able they are to withstand their cancer and treatment.

 

Pancreatic endocrine tumours

Pancreatic endocrine (or neuroendocrine) tumours are uncommon and generally have a better outlook than adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. Just over half the people who have surgery for an early stage tumour are alive 5 years later (55%). Of those who are unable to have surgery, about 15 out of 100 people will be alive at 5 years (15%).

 

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer, and how your body responds to treatment, are unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people for example.

The statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will determine your treatment and prognosis.

 

Clinical trials

Taking part in clinical trials can help to improve the outlook for people in the future. There is information about clinical trials in the trials and research section.

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Updated: 30 April 2014