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Pancreatic Cancer – the silent killer

Brian Lenihan was one of 371 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland each year.

The average age of diagnosis is 74, but the disease can hit younger people, particularly those with a family history of the disease. It is very much a silent cancer, with no early-warning signs.

Mr Lenihan was suffering from stomach pains when he was referred to the Mater Private Clinic in December 2009 for tests by his own GP. It was after these exams he received the diagnosis.

Symptoms often do not appear until the tumour grows large enough to interfere with the function of the stomach, liver, and other nearby organs.

Surgery is the main treatment for pancreatic cancer. But surgery is only possible if the cancer is at an early stage. This involves the removal of all or part of the pancreas, which is buried deep in the abdomen. Chemotherapy can be given to shrink the tumour and Mr Lenihan underwent chemotherapy treatment while Minster for Finance in the last government.

His father Brian Lenihan Snr died from cancer in 1995 at the age of 64. He underwent a liver transplant in 1989 at the Mayo Clinic in Boston.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest fatality rates of all cancers, remission is rare, and the five year survival rate is less than 5%.

Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze lost his battle to the disease at 57 years old in 2009 and Michael Landon, star of Little House and the Prairie, died within nine months of diagnosis.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is currently being treated for pancreatic cancer. He had a liver transplant in 2009 and is currently attending the same clinic which treated Swayze in California.

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