Aretha Franklin had a ‘better’ prognosis because of her cancer

This Morning: Dr Zoe explains symptoms of pancreatic cancer

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Aretha Franklin endured an eight-year battle with cancer, which finally took her life on August 16, 2018, when the songstress was surrounded by her loved ones in Detroit. Having struggled with pancreatic cancer for such an extended time, it wouldn’t be surprising if Franklin grew tired of the fight. Dr Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute confirmed Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type.

Malignant pancreatic tumours, the National Cancer Institute pointed out, can form in two types of cells: endocrine pancreas cells or exocrine pancreas cells.

The former is responsible for making hormones, such as insulin to help control blood sugar.

Franklin suffered from this specific type of malignant tumour in the endocrine pancreas cells.

Meanwhile, the exocrine pancreas cells make enzymes that are released into the small intestine to help with the digestion of food.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours can lead to an excess production of hormones, such as gastrin, insulin, and glucagon, which leads to symptoms of disease.

Symptoms could include stomach ulcers, diarrhoea, and low blood sugar.

However, if the tumour doesn’t cause an increase in hormones, symptoms only emerge when the cancer spreads and grows.

The experts noted that the tumour “may grow large or spread to other parts of the body before it causes signs or symptoms”, such as:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Indigestion
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen or back
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

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Numerous tests will be involved in diagnosing pancreatic cancer but, first, one must book a doctor’s appointment if they are suffering from symptoms.

Anybody experiencing anything unusual, or is feeling unwell, is advised to book a doctor’s appointment.

If cancer is detected, the treatment plan will depend on where the tumour is found and whether it has spread elsewhere in the body.

There are three avenues cancer can spread through the body, either through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

Typical treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.

The oncologist who treated Franklin spoke to Detroit Free Press about pancreatic tumours.

He said: “I want to make sure in the case of Ms Franklin… people realise this wasn’t pancreatic cancer in the common variety. It was this specific pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour.”

Oncologist Phillips continued: “In pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, the outcome of the patient or odds of survival, by and large, is much better than that in patients with adenocarcinoma.”

The latter is the most common form of pancreatic cancer, which has a worse prognosis than pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours.

“For advanced disease, there are more treatments available for pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours than there are for pancreatic adenocarcinoma,” he added.

“It’s less aggressive and some patients can live a good number of years with the disease.

“They can live five, six, seven or eight years or even longer with such a disease.”

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