ORLANDO, Fla. — Experts say pancreatic cancer is known as a difficult disease to beat — not because there is no treatment for it, but because oftentimes it is diagnosed too late.

Orlando Health Oncologist, Dr. Wasif Saif says the tumors that form on the pancreas start off small, and because the pancreas is in an area deep within the body, they often go undetected.

What You Need To Know

  • Experts say about 80% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed too late, and do not survive 

  • Data show that the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is about 12%

  • Orlando Oncologist Dr. Wasif Saif says there is no specific test or exam, like the mammogram and colonoscopy, that can be done to detect pancreatic cancer

For one Titusville woman, that was not the case. Janet Thompson is a retired executive officer for NASA,a nd back in 2022 she was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, only to later find out it was actually Stage 1b.

Thompson had surgery to remove majority of the tumor in late 2022, followed by chemotherapy — taking part in Orlando Health’s one stop shop clinic for treatment known as the Pancreatic Multidisciplinary clinic.

Saif says he has treated countless patients in his 30-year career, but he says what you don’t see often is an early pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

“With breast cancer you do a mammogram; in colon cancer you do a colonoscopy; in prostate cancer you do a blood test called PSA,” he said.

With no real test or exam available to detect cancer in the pancreas, he said about 80% of people diagnosed with the deadly disease find out it’s already too late.

While Thompson was diagnosed early, she says the fight was still difficult. She began a six-month chemotherapy treatment, during which she says she stopped because of how it made her feel.

“I took a break, but they came together again as a team,” said Thompson. “They revised the whole chemo thing and I finished the six months."

Back at the clinic to return her final treatment, Thompson brought an army of support with her. She clutched her chemo bag tightly, after having it run at home for about 48 hours.

Thompson said she feels like one of the lucky ones, not only because her pancreatic cancer was caught early, but because of God and the team she had caring for her.

“I’m just so thankful for everything," she said. "For how God was in it, for my family, for Dr. Saif. For Sarah, for his whole team … just good, and I don’t want to cry."

After having her bag and needle removed, Thompson, her family and her care team gathered around to witness her ring the bell, a moment she says she’s hoping to never have to experience again.

“Ring this bell, three times well, it’s toll to clearly say: My treatment is done, this course is run and I am on my way,” said Thompson.

Thompson said she is likely to continue regular testing for the rest of her life.