To assess and answer this question my first approach was to look at the survival rates of various different kinds of cancers. Among the lowest survival rates of all cancers is pancreatic cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5 year relative survival rate among all races for pancreatic cancer from 2006-2010 was just 7% (Siegal, Miller & Jemal, 2015). To understand why pancreatic cancer has such a low survival rate I wanted to look at what makes this cancer especially deadly.
Pancreatic cancer as a whole is incredibly difficult to detect in its early stages. By the time an individual has been diagnosed the cancer has likely already metastasized (Moyer, 2011). Metastasis is especially problematic in all cancers as it can lead to a widespread disruption of biological processes in the body. In the few cases where the cancer is caught early on, and a tumor is excised, there is still a high probability that the cancer will recur (Oberstein & Olive, 2013).
In addition to the difficulty of identifying and removing the cancer, is the task of treating the cancer post-excision.
Radiation treatment for pancreatic cancer tends to be less effective than for other types of cancer. This is because oxygen is important for effective radiation treatment (Rockwell et. al, 2009), and those types of pancreatic tumors that are especially difficult to treat tend to be devoid of oxygen (Oberstein & Olive, 2013). Additionally, treatment of the tumor with chemotherapy tends to be ineffective due to the special physical properties of pancreatic tumors (Oberstein & Olive, 2013).
The ability of pancreatic cancer to elude detection in its pre-metastatic phases, as well as its tendency to recur post-excision, coupled with the difficulty of treating the cancer makes this cancer particularly deadly. Simply put, with current medicine, there is no recourse in treating this cancer. It will spread, it will recur, and it will most definitely disrupt other processes in the body leading to death. Unequivocally, pancreatic cancer is a death sentence.