ZocdocAnswersHow rapidly can cancer cells spread throughout the body?

Question

How rapidly can cancer cells spread throughout the body?

They told my uncle he has six months to live. He has pancreatic cancer. How could this be? Can cancer spread that quickly?

Answer

I am sorry that your uncle has received this diagnosis. It often comes as a shock when people receive a terminal diagnosis such as pancreatic cancer and their doctor tells them how much time they may have left. I can only imagine how tough this has been for him and his family. I think I may be able to help explain why his doctor said this and what you may expect going forward. Pancreatic cancer can be divided (for simplicity sake) into two categories: 1. Metastatic, and 2. Not yet metastatic. The second type is the only type that can be cured. It can be removed surgically, and people have a chance for it not to return. If the cancer is metastatic (as it most likely is in the case of your uncle), then it cannot be cured. If this was his diagnosis, then the cancer has already spread beyond the pancreas into the surrounding organs. The treatments we have such as gemcitabine only prolong life an average of a few months. When the doctor told your uncle that he has only 6 months left to live, he or she was quoting an average survival of patients that receive that diagnosis. In reality, there are some people that develop metastatic pancreatic cancer that can live up to a few years, and some that live less than 6 months. It is very hard for physicians to predict how an individual will do. I hope that answer helped understand your uncle's diagnosis.

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