There was once a time when the word cancer was only used in hushed tones – a diagnosis was considered an automatic death sentence. Today modern medicine has made great strides. Researchers and physicians consider many forms of cancer to be highly curable and treatable, and patients are seeing longer survival rates and better outcomes. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case with pancreatic cancer, which is considered to be one of the deadliest forms of the disease. There are three reasons why pancreatic cancer presents such a challenge: the disease is rarely detected in its early stages; it spreads quickly; it generally returns, even after aggressive treatment. Despite the difficulties in treating pancreatic cancer, those who are diagnosed are encouraged to take an active role in their own care, and self-education is the best place to start. Here are five things to know about pancreatic cancer that will provide you with a greater understanding and sense of control.
Basic Information About Pancreatic Cancer
The pancreas is located behind your stomach, and its role is to secrete enzymes and hormones that help with digestion and metabolism. Symptoms of cancer in the pancreas generally don’t appear until the disease is far advanced, and include pain in the upper abdomen radiating to the back, signs of jaundice, loss of appetite and weight loss, blood clots and depression. Unfortunately, these symptoms are often present in other conditions, and missed diagnosis can delay treatment. The cause of pancreatic cancer has not been found, but it is more likely to appear in African Americans, people who are overweight, those who have been diagnosed with diabetes, smokers, and those with a family history of the disease. The treatment of pancreatic cancer can be complicated by other illnesses associated with the condition, including jaundice, bowel obstructions, weight loss, and pain. Overall, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and claims the lives of 29,000 people per year.
Pancreatic Cancer Care and Costs of Treatment
Care of pancreatic cancer and its associated costs begins with diagnosis. A physician will generally order a number of tests, including CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging, endoscopic ultrasound, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, and biopsy. These will not only confirm your condition but also help them to determine the stage of your cancer and how it should be treated. Depending upon how far advanced your disease is, as well as your overall health and personal preferences, your treatment may include surgery to remove tumors from the pancreas, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or inclusion in clinical trials that test new drug therapies. The greatest costs of the disease come from inpatient care, but outpatient expenses, including medications, transportation costs and medical equipment, as well as home care and long term care, also quickly add to the expense. Those who elect to undergo surgery can expect total costs to exceed $134,000, while those who opt out of surgery still face total expenses between $50,000 and $65,000.
Quality of Life Changes for Pancreatic Cancer Patients
Because pancreatic cancer advances so rapidly, with most patients dying within two years of diagnosis, most opt to focus on making the most of the time that they have remaining. Though symptoms that are associated with pancreatic cancer can be overwhelming, and are often exacerbated by feelings of sadness and hopelessness, supportive palliative care and a focus on making the most of the time left can provide a dramatic improvement in quality of life, and has even been shown to extend survival while reducing the physical and emotional discomforts.
Financial Stress and Worry for Pancreatic Cancer Patients
One of the biggest stressors that pancreatic cancer patients face, even after coming to terms with their diagnosis, is the high cost of treating their disease. Whether opting for the more aggressive surgical treatment protocol or choosing a more palliative approach, treatment costs quickly climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, depleting life savings and creating additional worries about the burdens that might be left behind for survivors. In surveys, many cancer patients — regardless of the type of cancer they have been diagnosed with — have pointed to financial stress as their greatest burden.
Making the Most of a Tough Situation
Because pancreatic cancer has such a short survival rate and such high associated expenses, financial concerns can quickly overwhelm the wish to maximize quality of life, as it is difficult to pay both medical bills and the costs of bucket list wishes. Fifth Season understands the economic frustration that comes with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and offers a solution that can help you make the most of your difficult situation. By offering those diagnosed with advanced illness the opportunity to get an advance on their life insurance policy’s death benefit, they provide freedom from worry and the ability to take back control of your life. Call us today for more information on how we can help.