Pancreatic Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the pancreatic cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the pancreatic cancer advocate to the support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Pancreatic cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of pancreatic patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
There are two types of cancers that can afflict the pancreas. These are duct adenocarcinoma and Islet cells carcinoma. The latter is rare. When pancreatic cancer occurs, the primary functions of this organ are impaired and the presenting symptoms will reflect the extent of this impairment. The two main function of the pancreas are production of pancreatic juice (for digestion) and insulin for blood sugar levels regulation.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer
The cancer can remain symptomless for long. In most cases by the time symptoms appear, the cancer may be too advanced. This makes management difficult and the outcome poor. Some of these symptoms include:
· Abdominal pains that reflect to the back.
· Loss of appetite.
· Weight loss that is not intentional.
· Low moods.
· May have relative intestinal obstruction.
· Jaundice may be present if the cancer has caused blockage of the biliary duct. This creates a backflow where bilirubin accumulates in the body leading to intense and generalized itchiness.
· When pancreatic juice can’t reach the gut to digest fats, the stools become pale and greasy.
· The affected person may come with symptoms that suggest deep vein thrombosis. This may be pain and swelling in the legs.
· If the production of insulin has been affected, then symptoms of uncontrolled blood sugar levels may be present. This includes excessive thirst, drinking too much water and passing urine too frequently among other symptoms.
Risk factors can be genetically determined or lifestyle related.
· African Americans are more like to get the disease.
· Family history of close members who have had the disease.
· Recurrent or chronic inflammation of the pancreas – pancreatitis.
The history and clinical presentation and findings will make a doctor with a high suspicion index to think of further tests to confirm a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. These tests include:
· Common tests like a total blood count.
· Blood sugar level.
· Abdominal ultrasound. This will show the status of the pancreas itself, the liver, the gall bladder, the spleen and even the kidneys.
· Computerized Tomography (CT) scans.
· MRI scans.
· Endoscopic biopsy.
These tests will help the doctors involved with the patient know more accurately stage of the disease and plan treatment appropriately.
Treatment involves dealing with the cancer itself and the symptoms or complications created by the disease pathology.
Surgery is commonly applied. It varies in its application and in the degree of invasiveness. It is not uncommon to find surgery involving resecting part of the stomach, the small gut and the total removal of the spleen and the gall bladder. This depends on the degree of the cancer’s spread.
Radiation can be done before or after the surgery. Some technologically advanced centers can also do it during the operation.
Drugs or chemotherapy can be given in oral or intravenous preparations.
Targeted therapies are a newer technique that uses drugs that specifically target the tumor cells. Erlotinib is such one drug that is usually combined with chemotherapy for better results.
Clinical trial centers can offer hope to a volunteer because they can access forms of (trial) treatment not available anywhere else. Although there are risks, it is an option to consider.
Statistics of the disease in the U.S.
About 50000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2015. The men to women ratio is about 1:1.
About 41000 will die of the disease with males and males affected equally.
Pancreatic cancer is about 3% of all cancer cases and causes about 7% of all cancer deaths.
The risk of getting the cancer is about 1:67.
Considering the poor prognosis of pancreatic cancer, changing to a healthy lifestyle by those at risk can make a big difference in their lives.