Thursday, December 9, 2010

Aretha Franklin Has Pancreatic Cancer

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, America's "Queen of Soul," is fighting the very deadly pancreatic cancer. She has reportedly undergone surgery and is recovering at home.

While sources close to the singer have not commented much on her condition, it's no secret that pancreatic cancer does not have a strong survival rate. Last year actor Patrick Swayze died of the disease only a year and a half after diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer is among the most deadly forms of cancer, in large part because it is so difficult to diagnose. "There is no standard screening for pancreatic cancer," Dr. Jason Klapman, endoscopic oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, told AOL Health Thursday afternoon. "By the time it's diagnosed, it's advanced."

It's a relatively rare cancer, affecting only about 40,000 people a year. And only about 25 percent of cases, says Klapman, are operable. Of patients who undergo surgery, 20 to 25 percent have a five-year survival rate. For the rest, life expectancy can be as little as a few months.

Overall, the one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 20 percent, while the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 4 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Comparatively, cancers of the breast, prostate, thyroid and skin, all have upwards of a 90 percent survival rate, depending on when the cancer is caught.

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice, change in the color of stool and urine, severe abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, attacks of pancreatitis, or sudden onset of diabetes. But those symptoms only begin to appear once the cancer is quite advanced. "It's a silent disease," Klapman says.

According to Klapman, only 10 pecent of patients with pancreatic cancer have a family history of the disease, though people with two or more first-degree relatives who have had pancreatic cancer are considered at very high risk. Other risk factors include having at least three relatives on the same side of one's family with the disease and being a carrier of the BRAC2 gene mutation that is also a risk factor for breast cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed using a CT Scan to check for a mass in the pancreas and then using biopsy to confirm. "The best treatment for the disease is surgery," Klapman says, but it's not always possible if the cancer has metastasized. In those cases, doctors try to fight the cancer with radiation and chemotherapy.

It is difficult to trace specific causes of pancreatic cancer, though it can be associated with smoking, drinking, and obesity. Thus, the best preventive advice one can follow is to eat right, don't smoke, and avoid heavy consumption of alcohol.

As for Franklin, no one knows what her prognosis is at this point, but she has canceled all scheduled performances through May 2011.