Patrick Swayze and pancreatic cancer

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Patrick Swayze was born on August 18, 1952. He was an American actor best known for his roles in films such as Dirty Dancing. and ghost. The three-time Golden Globe-nominated actor was also versatile: He began his career as a dancer and then immersed himself in singing and songwriting.

In March 2008, his pancreatic cancer diagnosis shocked many, after which he died more than a year later, in September 2009.

In the United States, pancreatic cancer accounts for less than 4% of all diagnosed cancers. It is one of the rarest species with excellent characteristics. Learn about Patrick Swayze's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the symptoms and causes of the condition.

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What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen that secretes enzymes that help digest food. It also secretes hormones like insulin and glucagon, which control blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer in which cells in the pancreas begin to grow out of control, forming a tumor .

Most pancreatic cancers affect the exocrine cells of the pancreas, which are cells responsible for producing enzymes that help the body digest food. Pancreatic cancer that affects endocrine cells, the cells responsible for hormone production, is less common.

Pancreatic cancer can spread to other organs in the body, especially those near the pancreas, such as the liver and lungs. Like other cancers, pancreatic cancer cells tend to outsmart the immune system's ability to fight them, leading to their continued spread.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

In late 2007, Swayze began experiencing a series of symptoms that prompted him to go to the hospital and get a diagnosis. These symptoms were gastrointestinal problems, weight loss, abdominal pain and jaundice , four prominent symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Weight loss and gastrointestinal problems.

Pancreatic cancer patients may have little or no appetite, as inflammation of the pancreas can interfere with digestion. This can lead to weight loss, which is seen in most patients at the time of diagnosis. Also, a tumor in the pancreas can put pressure on the nearby stomach and intestines, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion, nausea, and vomiting.

Abdominal pain

Stomach pain is a common symptom in people with pancreatic cancer and can be the result of a tumor in the pancreas pressing on the spine. People with pancreatic cancer may also experience pain that begins in the abdomen, spreads to the back, and worsens when lying down.

Jaundice

Jaundice is characterized by yellowing of the eyes and skin and can be one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer. This is due to the accumulation of bilirubin , a substance produced by the breakdown of red blood cells.

The liver secretes a fluid that aids in digestion, known as bile, which contains bilirubin. Bile generally travels through the bile duct into the intestines, where it helps break down fats before leaving the body in the stool.

However, pancreatic cancer can start or spread near the bile duct, blocking it and causing bilirubin to build up.

Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include blood clots, diabetes, and an enlarged gallbladder or liver.

Causes

The direct cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, but several risk factors have been identified. For example, smoking is a major risk factor. The chemicals in tobacco can weaken the body's immune system and damage or alter the DNA in cells, which can lead to uncontrolled cell growth.

Swayze, known as a heavy smoker, has even suggested that his smoking probably had something to do with the development of his cancer.

Other risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Age : Most people with pancreatic cancer are over 45 years old.
  • Genetics: A family history of pancreatic cancer or an inherited genetic disorder such as Lynch syndrome increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Obesity: Obese people are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatitis is often the result of excessive alcohol consumption.

Diagnostics

Diagnosing pancreatic cancer can be difficult, especially in the early stages. The pancreas is located deep within the abdominal cavity, so small tumors that develop in the pancreas are difficult to detect on physical examination.

Often people with pancreatic cancer do not develop symptoms until they progress to a later stage. For example, Swayze didn't go to the doctor until his symptoms got to the point where he couldn't ignore them.

A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer usually begins with a doctor asking about the patient's personal, family, and medical history and conducting a physical exam. In a physical exam, the doctor will look for symptoms known to cause pancreatic cancer, such as jaundice.

The doctor will then order a series of tests to confirm whether the patient has pancreatic cancer. These tests can range from blood tests to, most importantly, imaging tests and sometimes laparoscopy , as these tests can more clearly detect any tumor and determine if it has spread to other organs.

Watch out

Although there is no cure for pancreatic cancer, there are treatments that can relieve symptoms and improve survival. These treatments may include surgery to remove part or all of the pancreas and other organs affected by pancreatic cancer, as well as chemotherapy , radiation therapy , and immunotherapy .

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs are usually given intravenously or by injection. Radiation therapy is the use of energy beams to kill cancer cells. And immunotherapy, which is usually given intravenously or orally, uses drugs that help the immune system recognize and fight cancer cells.

Swayze's cancer treatments included chemotherapy and an experimental drug called vatalanib, which helps stop the activity of an enzyme that promotes the growth of cancer cells. The drug has not yet been approved for the treatment of pancreatic cancer and clinical trials are underway.

Front facing

Because pancreatic cancer is a serious medical condition, many people can find it difficult to cope with their diagnosis. However, there are ways to cope emotionally and physically with pancreatic cancer.

Swayze approached her diagnosis positively, seeking treatment, spreading information, and finding comfort in her loved ones. Those with pancreatic cancer can do the same, in addition to joining an online support group, openly discussing their condition, and building a good support system.

Also, it can be difficult to physically cope with the side effects of pancreatic cancer and its treatment. Many face problems such as pain, fatigue, therapy side effects, and nutritional problems. It is important that you tell your doctor about any problems you encounter during treatment so that they can help you find ways to solve them.

For example, your doctor may prescribe medicine for pain and nausea, and changes to your healthy lifestyle, such as getting enough rest, being as active as possible, and maintaining a healthy diet, can help you feel better.

Swayze was active and continued acting while undergoing cancer treatment, most notably in the A&E drama The Beast.

Frequently asked questions

How long did Patrick Swayze suffer from pancreatic cancer before his death?

Patrick Swayze died 20 months after diagnosis.

How old was Patrick Swayze when he died?

Patrick Swayze was 57 when he died.

What kind of cancer did Patrick Swayze have?

Patrick Swayze had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, also known as metastatic pancreatic cancer. This means that the cancer has spread from the pancreas to other organs.

Get the word of drug information

Patrick Swayze inspired many fans long before he had pancreatic cancer, but his diagnosis and the way he approached it brought more attention to the disease and resonated with those affected.

Guide to Discussion with a Pancreatic Oncologist

Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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