The 5-year relative pancreatic cancer survival rate in the United States is 12.5%. However, survival rates vary greatly based on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

The statistic cited above comes from the National Cancer Institute.

The discovery of pancreatic cancer often comes late, after it has spread, when it has a lower survival rate. However, new treatments are constantly emerging to improve the outlook for pancreatic cancer.

The pancreas lies in the upper abdomen behind the stomach and is responsible for digestion and helping control blood sugar levels. It produces enzymes that help digest food and hormones that assist the body in controlling blood sugar levels.

Cancer generally begins in the cells that create the enzymes. It usually does not cause symptoms immediately, and diagnosis comes later, which is more challenging to treat.

“Survival rate” refers to the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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% of all new cancer cases3.2%
% of all cancer deaths8.2%
Average lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer1.7%
5-year relative survival rate11.5%
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Survival rates vary greatly depending on the stage of cancer at diagnosis.

  • Localized means there are no signs that cancer has spread further than the pancreas.
  • Regional means that cancer has spread to nearby areas or lymph nodes.
  • Distant means that cancer has spread to distant organs or parts of the body.
StageSurvival rate

These numbers only apply to the stage when the cancer was first diagnosed. They have no relevance to the development of the cancer beyond diagnosis.

This data comes from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER), which tracked data from 2012-2018.

To determine survival rates, researchers utilize a range of factors, including the cancer’s stage, the individual’s age, overall health, the treatment plan, and how the cancer responds to treatment.

Learn about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

AgeRelative survival rate

The median age at diagnosis is 70, according to the National Cancer Institute, and the median age at death is 72.

Factors that affect treatment and survival include the cancer stage at diagnosis and the cancer response to treatment.

Fewer than 20% of people are candidates for surgery, as most pancreatic cancer has already spread beyond the pancreas when diagnosed.

Clinical trials are testing new therapies and targeted agents.

Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include alterable lifestyle choices and unchangeable genetic factors. Things that increase risk include:

Learn about the link between pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about survival and pancreatic cancer.

What is the average life expectancy for a person with pancreatic cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, the percentage of pancreatic cancer deaths is highest for people aged 65–74. The median age of death is 72.

Since 2012, however, the rate of new cases diagnosed has risen an average of 0.5% each year, while the rate of deaths has only increased by 0.1%.

This indicates that treatment advances may be improving the chances of survival.

Is it normally fatal?

Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, it has the third highest mortality rate, behind lung and colon cancer.

The overall survival rate after 5 years for pancreatic cancer is 11%, so it has a high fatality rate. This is usually because it is diagnosed too late for surgical intervention, when the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas.

Is chemotherapy worth it for pancreatic cancer?

Individuals diagnosed early or with localized pancreatic cancer have better outcomes and may benefit more from chemotherapy. This is a question to discuss thoroughly with the doctor to weigh risks versus benefits.

Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells, whether they are cancer cells or healthy cells. The healthy cells that can be most impacted by chemotherapy include:

  • blood-forming cells of the bone marrow
  • hair follicles
  • cells of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive system

This can lead to short and long-term side effects that vary significantly from person to person. Medications can help prevent or lessen some side effects.

Pancreatic cancer has the third lowest survival rate of all cancers, behind lung and colon cancer. The overall survival rate is 11%. However, it varies between 3% for cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body and 43% for cancer localized to the pancreas.

Localized pancreatic cancer may be removable with surgery. Pancreatic cancer is rarely diagnosed at this early stage, as it does not produce early symptoms.

Survival rates decrease with age. For example, the median age for diagnosis is 70, and the median age of death from pancreatic cancer is 72.

However, many treatments can improve a person’s quality of life. The outlook for pancreatic cancer will vary according to individual circumstances. Researchers are also constantly working on treatments that are improving the outlook of pancreatic cancer.