Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Speaks

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Speaks
Patrick Swayze
Solo/ZUMA

03/07/2008 AT 02:15 PM EST

Manhattan attorney Allan Pilson remembers what preceded his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in May 2003: excruciating stomach pain.

That was five years ago. Today, the 65-year-old is alive and well – and sharing the story of his health battle with New York's Daily News. Following surgery, five months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation, Pilson's only evidence of his health battle is an enzyme pill he takes to aid digestion, he tells the paper.

His advice for Patrick Swayze and other patients: "Do not allow your imagination to run away with you. Listen to your doctor, take the treatment and be positive."

And, as is the case with cancer, be "relentless," he says, at finding the cause of anything that doesn't seem right in your system.

If caught early enough, the tumor can be surgically removed. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation can also reduce its size and control the pain.

Difficult to Detect

Still, because of its difficultly to detect, pancreatic cancer sometimes can only be diagnosed in its later stages. As a result, the survival rate is among the lowest of all cancers – 4.4 percent of women and 4.2 percent of men are still alive five years after the initial diagnosis.

(A yellowish organ located beneath the stomach and connected to the small intestine, the pancreas is about 7 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Its job is to produce the body's most important enzymes, to help digest foods and break down starches.)

The first signs of the illness vary, depending on the size of the tumor and its location on the pancreas. Often it may come as a pain in the back or lower abdomen. Patients may also suffer from nausea, vomiting and weight loss.

In its later stages, the disease may cause a person to become jaundiced, with their skin and whites of their eyes turning yellow.

While scientists have not pinpointed a cause of pancreatic cancer, such factors as smoking, a fatty diet, increased alcohol consumption and diabetes are known to increase the risk, say medical experts.

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