Understanding the various ways in which pancreatic cancer is classified can help you better understand the treatment options available. Cancer is normally divided into four or five main stages, with stages III and IV being considered late- stage cancer. As pancreatic cancer is rarely discovered early, many patients will have to cope with an initial diagnosis in these stages.
According to Medline Plus, pancreatic cancer is one of the more lethal types of cancer, as roughly 80 per cent of patients are diagnosed only after the disease has begun to spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms include localised abdominal pain, jaundice, fatigue, discoloured stool and weight loss.
Cancer Stages Generally
Pancreatic cancer is divided into seven stages--five main stages and two subdivisions (of stages I and II). The stages are broken up depending on how large the tumour has grown, and whether it is still confined to the pancreas or has travelled to other sites throughout the body. Generally speaking, late-stage pancreatic cancer involves stages from IIB onwards, where the tumour has either moved beyond or is at a high risk of moving beyond the pancreas.
According to the American Cancer Society, in stage IIB the tumour has spread beyond the pancreas, but only to nearby lymph nodes and not to any major nerves or blood vessels. Although the tumour has yet to fully metastasise, the five-year survival rate for patients with stage IIB pancreatic cancer is a disappointing 6 per cent.
In stage III, the tumour has grown beyond the pancreas into regional nerves and major blood vessels. The five-year survival rate drops to a paltry 2 per cent, which means that out of all patients diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer, only 2 per cent will still be living five years from the date of the original diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.
Stage IV is the most advanced stage of pancreatic cancer. Here, the cancer has fully metastasised, which means that it has spread throughout the body to locations far removed from the original site. The cancer may have invaded other organs or the bones of the body. Stage IV pancreatic cancer is one of the least treatable forms of cancer, with a five-year survival rate of only 1 per cent, according to the American Cancer Society.