End Stage Pancreatic Cancer Timeline: What to Expect

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The confusion, pain, and fear of pancreatic cancer take their toll on patients and their loved ones alike. This end-stage pancreatic cancer timeline can help clear the confusion.

Receiving the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer can be devastating. You may have seen the life expectancy statistics, which are quite grim, and know you’ll need to prepare for what’s to come. 

Helping your loved one manage stage 4 pancreatic cancer may feel overwhelming, but know that there are plenty of resources that can help. Below, we’ll share more about what to expect from end-stage pancreatic cancer. You’ll also see the symptoms that signal the end of life with pancreatic cancer may be near.

Finally, you’ll learn some ways you can help your loved one through this difficult time, and how hospice care can provide support for the whole family.

For more information, see our article on Caring for a Loved One with Cancer.

Are you or a loved one living with a
chronic or terminal illness?

The Sage Family of Companies is here to help.

Are you or a loved
one living with a
chronic or terminal illness?

The Sage Family
of Companies
is here to help.

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when the cells in your pancreas, a gland in your abdomen that helps with digestion, mutate and grow out of control. These cancerous cells can then form a tumor. There are two main types of pancreatic tumors: exocrine tumors and neuroendocrine tumors.

  • Exocrine tumors make up more than 90 percent of pancreatic tumors and start in the exocrine glands, which produce digestive enzymes.
  • Neuroendocrine tumors account for less than 10 percent of pancreatic tumors and originate from endocrine cells, which release hormones.

Pancreatic cancer is very difficult to detect as there are no signs or symptoms in the early stages. In most instances, doctors don’t catch pancreatic cancer until it has spread to other parts of the body, also called stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Research has found that more than half of all pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed in stage 4

Discover the stark contrast between a healthy pancreas and one afflicted by cancer in this informative illustration. Explore the intricate details of these vital organs and gain valuable insights into the impact of cancer on the pancreas. Learn more about early detection and prevention strategies.
Discover the stark contrast between a healthy pancreas and one afflicted by cancer in this informative illustration. Explore the intricate details of these vital organs and gain valuable insights into the impact of cancer on the pancreas. Learn more about early detection and prevention strategies.

End Stage Pancreatic Cancer Timeline

Unfortunately, stage 4 pancreatic cancer, sometimes known as end-stage pancreatic cancer, cannot be cured. It’s a very serious illness in which the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, and parts of the abdomen far from the pancreas.

The life expectancy for end-stage pancreatic cancer is very low. According to the American Cancer Society, about 3 percent of people with distant, or stage 4, pancreatic cancer will survive five years after diagnosis. There’s no way to predict when any one person will die, but most people with end-stage pancreatic cancer live for about one to two years.

If your loved one has been diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer, these certainly aren’t easy figures to read. But know that while pancreatic cancers at this stage can’t be cured, there are options available to help manage symptoms and bring comfort to your loved one.

Signs of End of Life With Pancreatic Cancer

There’s no way to predict when or how quickly the end of life will come on the end-stage pancreatic cancer timeline. Often, the disease escalates quickly and you may not get much warning that the end is near.

If your loved one has end-stage pancreatic cancer, signs that they may be approaching the end of their life can include:

  • Severe pain in back or abdomen
  • Withdrawing and speaking less
  • Sleepiness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Breathing changes
  • Confusion, anxiety or agitation
  • Changes to skin color or temperature

Helping Your Loved One Manage End-of-Life Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Watching your loved one go through the painful symptoms of end-stage pancreatic cancer can make you feel helpless, but there are plenty of ways you can help and provide comfort.

Help With Needs

For instance, when your loved one is in pain you can administer medication or assist with moving them into a more comfortable position. Let them know that you’re there for them should they have any questions or if they’d just like to talk.

Often, sitting with them and providing space for them to speak about what they’re feeling can bring them peace.

Become Their Advocate

You can also act as an advocate on their behalf. If you notice any new symptoms, document them and tell your loved one’s doctor. This is especially important if your loved one is tired, weak, or having difficulty communicating on their own.

Write down any questions you have about medications or other treatments and what to do if worrisome symptoms arise. Finally, you can make the call to set your loved one up with hospice care.

Are you or a loved one living with a
chronic or terminal illness?

The Sage Family of Companies is here to help.

Are you or a loved
one living with a
chronic or terminal illness?

The Sage Family
of Companies
is here to help.

Hospice Care for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

When pancreatic cancer becomes terminal, your loved one may benefit from hospice care. This is a specialized form of care that focuses on providing your loved one with comprehensive care to address their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs as they progress along the end-stage pancreatic cancer timeline.

With hospice care, your loved one will no longer receive treatments meant to stop the disease. Rather, a team of doctors, nurses, and specialists will provide care that aims to ease their pain, manage other symptoms, and enhance their comfort as they prepare to transition out of life.

Counselors, mental health providers, and spiritual leaders are also available to take care of their emotional and spiritual health. Your loved one can receive hospice care at home or at a hospice facility.

Hospice care also includes care for the whole family, so caregiving resources and bereavement counseling are available for you as well.

For more information, see our article on When it’s Time to Consider Hospice Care.

FAQ

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about end-stage pancreatic cancer.

How Long Does End Stage Pancreatic Cancer Last?

How long pancreatic cancer lasts varies from person to person. Typically, the end-stage pancreatic cancer timeline isn’t very long. The five-year survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic cancer is 3 percent. Most people live for a year or two with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

What Happens in the Last Days of Pancreatic Cancer?

When approaching the last days with pancreatic cancer, your loved one may experience severe pain in their back and abdomen. They may also appear confused, agitated or anxious, become withdrawn, or sleep more often. Signs that death is near include changes in blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate, as well as irregular breathing and mottled skin that’s purple or blue in color.

Summary

An end-stage pancreatic cancer diagnosis can be grim, but you have options to make sure your loved one is comfortable and receiving the best care. Consider hospice care to support their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs as they prepare for what’s to come. 

The hospice care team at the Sage Family of Companies is a group of specially trained healthcare professionals who ensure that a hospice patient’s last few months, weeks, or days are lived in comfort and dignity. If you’d like to know more, or to discuss your requirements, please call us 24/7 at (480) 351-6573. The Sage Family of Companies is here to help.

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Tucson

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Colorado

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Sage Hospice
Arizona

Sage Hospice
Tucson

Elevation Hospice
Colorado

Elevation Hospice
Utah

Agape Hospice Georgia

References

Treatment and survival rates of stage IV pancreatic cancer at VA hospitals: a nation-wide study [2019].

Survival Rates for Pancreatic Cancer [2023].

Timing of palliative care referral and aggressive cancer care toward the end-of-life in pancreatic cancer: a retrospective, single-center observational study [2019].

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Ashley Welch's Profile Picture
Ashley Welch is a journalist focusing on health and science reporting with more than a decade of experience in both breaking news and long-form storytelling. She served as the health editor for CBSNews.com for several years, reporting, writing, and editing daily health news articles and features. She is currently a freelancer writing for a mix of local, national, and international publications.