National Cheng Kung University Hospital (NCKUH) said it has increased the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients from 5 percent to more than 20 percent since it began treating patients with a cross-disciplinary approach in 2003.
The director of the hospital’s division of traumatology, Shen Yen-sheng (沈延盛), said the pancreas is the body’s main digestive organ, positioned behind the stomach in the upper part of the abdomen.
The pancreas is a “silent” organ, as pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to detect in the early stages, Shen said.
When symptoms such as diabetes and jaundice appear, the cancer has usually already reached its terminal stage, he said.
Statistics compiled by the hospital in 1998 show that on average, stage IV pancreatic cancer patients lived for just 4.6 months, and most patients did not live for more than six months.
In 2003, the hospital established a cross-disciplinary treatment team, and after more than 10 years of practice, 60 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are now living for more than one year, Shen said.
The five-year survival rate of stage II patients has increased to 26.5 percent, and one-third of stage III patients are given surgery after de-escalation therapy, with their five-year survival rate raised to 20 percent, he said.
He said surgery is the best way to treat early pancreatic cancer.
Between 2010 and September last year, NCKUH performed 214 whipple procedures — surgery involving the removal of part of the pancreas, small intestine and the gallbladder — and the death rate was 0.43 percent, he said.
Most doctors are reluctant to perform surgery on stage III pancreatic cancer patients due to the high risks and low survival rate. One-third of stage III pancreatic cancer patients at NCKUH are given chemotherapy or radiotherapy to reduce the size of their tumors prior to surgery, Shen said.
One of the longest-living survivors has now lived for more than 12 years, he said.
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