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A sad farewell to little Joe.

Only in April of this year did the popular television star Michael Landon learn that he had cancer of the pancreas. There had been little, if any, warning of the presence of the disease; yet, within three months, he was dead.

Regrettably, his story is not unusual. Pancreatic cancer is frighteningly silent in its onset and rapid in its progression. Its usual site is the head of the pancreas, which lies against the liver and the bile duct, both of which are quickly invaded by the malignant tumor. Blockage of the bile duct, producing jaundice, may be the first clue to its presence. By the time this occurs, the only possibility for cure (surgery) is usually too late. Even when surgery is performed at an earlier stage, the death rate from the surgery itself is formidable-as high as 50 percent.

The good news is that a Polish researcher, Dr. Witold Zatonski, has studied the possible links between caffeine and the tannin substance in tea to the prevention of pancreatic cancer. Tea drinkers have been found to have slightly lower rates of several kinds of cancer including those of the pancreas, prostate, and liver) than those who do not drink tea.

The bad news is that even if the patient survives pancreatic surgery, the average survival time following surgery, with subsequent radiation and chemotherapy, is only 15 months. Of 40 patients thus treated in one study, only two survived five years, with one still alive after nine years.

Pancreatic cancer comprises 3 percent of all cancers and about 5 percent of all cancer deaths, with about 27,000 new cases occurring each year. Early symptoms tend to be vague and non-specific, and there is no single good diagnostic test, thus hampering early diagnosis. The best tests are ultrasound, computer tomography (CT, or "cat scan"), and ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography-if you can handle that one!).

Because of their limitations, however, it often takes several different tests to distinguish between benign and malignant tumors. The majority of patients with the disease are not candidates for curative surgery, and these tests help to avoid unnecessary exploratory surgery.

Smoking is an important factor that has been associated with pancreatic cancer, and it appears that the heavier the smoker, the higher the risk of acquiring the disease. Michael Landon was a heavy smoker-to quote a friend, "We used to say we bet his socks smelled smoky, because he inhaled so deeply."
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Title Annotation:Michael Landon dies of pancreatic cancer
Publication:Medical Update
Article Type:Biography
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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