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HealthWatch: Pancreatic Cancer

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Organs (credit: CBS 2)

Organs (credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK  (CBS 2) – Singer Aretha Franklin may be in the fight of her life. She’s said to be battling pancreatic cancer. Her publicist will only say that Franklin underwent surgery last week and is still hospitalized.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult diseases to survive. Dr. Max Gomez reports on what may lie ahead for the “Queen of Soul.”

There are more than 43,000 cases of pancreatic cancer every year in the U.S., mostly in people over age 65. It causes nearly 37,000 deaths annually.

It’s a particularly deadly cancer partly because it spreads rapidly and its rarely detected in its early stages.

The pancreas is an organ about six inches long that lies behind the stomach and is surrounded by the liver, spleen, and small intestine. It makes digestive enzymes and insulin that regulates blood sugar.

When it becomes cancerous, treatment usually involves an operation called a whipple procedure, an arduous procedure that involves removing the head of the pancreas, the gall bladder and parts of the stomach and small intestine.

Mortality from the surgery alone is one in twenty and long term prognosis is often poor.

Symptoms include pain in the upper part of your belly, pain in the middle part of your back that doesnt go away when you shift your position, dark urine, pale stools, nausea, and vomiting.

Pancreatic cancer has already claimed the lives of several well-known people, including actor Michael Landon and famed 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt.

Actor Patrick Swayze succumbed to it last year after a difficult battle with the disease.

Even though mortality is high, there are some who have survived, like Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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