I campaign hard for Neuroendocrine Cancer awareness including continually pointing out that a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary is NOT Pancreatic Cancer as is often quoted in the press. The two main reasons I take up these campaigns are as follows:
1. They are totally different cancers despite an anatomical relationship. Although they share some similar presentation, they have different signs, different treatments and vastly different prognostic outcomes. What that means is that anyone who is looking for useful information on either needs to be very careful on interpretation, they could end up with very bad advice and in some situations, become more concerned than they should be (particularly with the prognostics). See more below.
2. These two different cancer types have different awareness organisations, patient support groups and patient leaders/advocates. In most cases, vastly different awareness messages. Both of these organisations and advocates need all the help they can get, they need all the resources and funding they can get.
Both Pancreatic Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer are diseases that need maximum publicity, both types of cancer have their own unique situations, thus why the awareness messages can be so vastly different. It’s really important, therefore, that publicity surrounding famous patients be attributed to the correct cancer type in order that the advocate organisations and supporters can gain maximum benefit to forward their causes. Unfortunately, thanks to doctors and media, this very often doesn’t work out in favour of Neuroendocrine Cancer due to the Human Anatomy of Neuroendocrine Cancer (this problem actually goes beyond the pancreas).
Where the press and doctors regularly get it wrong
Two famous people in particular, one in 2011 and the other this year, are regularly reported in the press as having died of Pancreatic Cancer.
Steve Jobs. One of the most famous technical innovators of his time and creator of the most valuable company in the world. He had a Neuroendocrine Cancer with a pancreatic primary. Read his story here.
To summarise, Neuroendocrine Cancer is not a “type” of another cancer.
What are the differences?
For me, one of the two main differences is the cell type. When people talk about Pancreatic Cancer, they really mean something known as “Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma”. It starts in the exocrine cells, which produce enzymes to support digestion. Neuroendocrine Tumors start in the endocrine cells which produce hormones.
For me, the other big difference is prognostics. Unfortunately, it is statistically proven that most people with Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma will die, whereas most people with Neuroendocrine Tumors with a pancreatic primary will live.
For a more detailed comparison, see this excellent article from NET Research Foundation.
Pancreatic Cancer – Why I support their campaigns
Personally speaking, as a healthcare advocate online, I do support many cancer awareness campaigns, I think this is important to get similar help coming the other way (this frequently works for me). However, I very much suspect, other than Neuroendocrine Cancer, my biggest support area online is for Pancreatic Cancer and other “less survivable” cancers. I’m drawn by their excellent campaigns where they focus on key messages of prognostics for what is essentially a silent disease (in many ways the same issue with Neuroendocrine Cancer) and they make these more compelling by focusing on people rather than gimmicks. The prognostics can be upsetting reading as they are quite shocking figures which have not changed much in the past 40 years, a key sign that more must be done for this awful disease. I frequently share this symptom graphic below because it might save a life and I ask that you do too.
Often though, the patients with a Neuroendocrine Cancer (pancreatic primary) are drawn to getting support from Pancreatic Cancer organisations. I suspect this is a combination of their own perceptions, their doctor’s language in describing their cancer type, and even something as simple as it was the first place they found help and support and they stick with that organisation. You may also be interested in my article “I wish I had another cancer” – click here.
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